Hundreds of Somali parliamentarians gather on Sunday in a heavily fortified airport hangar to elect a new president in a vote needed to ensure the impoverished and conflict-torn country continues to receive foreign financial aid.
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The vote has been postponed time and again due to squabbling within the government, but must be held this month to keep a $400 million International Monetary Fund (IMF) program on track.
It takes place during the worst drought in the Horn of Africa in four decades and against a depressingly well-known backdrop of violence caused by war by extremist rebels, infighting between security forces and rivalry between clans.
A suicide bomb claimed by al-Shabaab militants injured seven people on Wednesday during political rallies near the hangar where parliamentarians will gather. On Friday, fighters from a Sufi Muslim group fought government forces for the capital of Galmudug state.
Incumbent President Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed – known as “Farmaajo” for his famed love of Italian cheese – seems unlikely to win reelection after losing support in last month’s parliamentary vote, analysts said.
Popular mood impossible
That leaves two ex-presidents among the frontrunners: Sharif Sheikh Ahmed (2009-2012) and Hassan Sheikh Mohamud (2012-2017).
The head of the Puntland semi-autonomous region, Said Abdulahi Deni, also stands a good chance, analysts say.
Among the 36 candidates, only one is a woman, former Foreign Minister Fawzia Yusuf Adam. About 329 MPs from both chambers are entitled to vote.
African Union peacekeepers will guard the site during an expected two or three rounds of voting, which many Somalis say is traditionally influenced more by bribery than policy.
Ahmed became president of a Western-backed transitional government in 2009, establishing the national army and helping drive al-Shabaab out of Mogadishu.
The other former president, Mohamud, was a peace activist and academic. Both were accused of failing to curb corruption.
Despite the civil war since 1991, Somalia has had relatively peaceful changes of leadership every four years since 2000, although the last one has been postponed since 2021.
Widespread insecurity continues to make it impossible for Somalia’s approximately 15 million residents to vote.
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