MOGADISHU, Somalia – Somalia is set to hold its long-awaited presidential election on Sunday, marking the end of a complicated electoral process that sparked tensions in the country last year when the president’s term ended without a successor.
The vote will be held amid heightened insecurity as the Islamic extremist group al-Shabab, which opposes the federal government, continues its deadly attacks in the capital and elsewhere in the Horn of Africa.
Through mortar shells and gun attacks, al-Shabaab has repeatedly tested the defenses of the Helen military camp, which is guarded by African Union peacekeepers, in recent months. A suicide bomber on Wednesday killed at least four people, including two government soldiers, at a checkpoint near the heavily guarded airport area where lawmakers will meet Sunday to elect a new president.
The voting schedule is 15 months behind schedule and Somali authorities face a deadline of May 17 for voting or risk losing key funds from international donors.
Somali elections are unexpected, and Mohammed – also known as Pharmazo – is facing a tough battle for re-election. Mohammed is embroiled in a power struggle with his prime minister, Mohamed Hussein Robel, over control of the government. Robel is not running for president, but behind the scenes he and other former leaders could play a decisive role in the outcome of the vote.
“Many problems are at risk. Mohamed Mohammed, a Mogadishu-based political analyst, says the most important thing is to oust the incumbent and unite all candidates against him, although he is aware that his chances of re-election are lower than those of his predecessors.
“There are disturbing facts that the incumbent cannot secure the votes required for his re-election, but he is determined to change the result for the opposition candidate of his choice and is trying to prevent certain candidates from winning even if he is ahead in the election,” he said.
Despite continued insecurity, Somalia has seen peaceful changes of leadership every four years since 2000, and Aden Abdul Osman, Africa’s first democratically elected president, had the honor of peacefully resigning in 1967.
Somalia began to disintegrate in 1991, when warlords ousted dictator Siad Barre and then turned on each other. Year after year of conflict and al-Shabaab attacks, including famine, has torn apart the country of about 12 million people.
In Somalia, the goal of direct, one-person-one-vote elections remains elusive. It was meant to take place this time. Instead, the federal government and the states agreed on another “indirect election” with legislators – representatives of powerful groups – elected by community leaders in each member state.
The 329 lawmakers in both houses of parliament are expected to vote by secret ballot on Sunday. To win the first round, a candidate must receive two-thirds of the vote or 219 ballots. Observers are expecting a second or even third round of voting for the four top candidates.
In addition to Mohammed, the main contenders include former presidents Hassan Sheikh Mohamud and Sharif Sheikh Ahmed, as well as the current president of the regional state of Puntland, Saeed Dani.
Somali elections are notoriously corrupt, and there are widespread allegations of bribery, ranging from the election of lawmakers.
Mohammed’s four-year term ended in February 2021, but he remained in office after the lower house of parliament approved his mandate and the federal government’s two-year extension, following anger from Senate leaders and criticism from the international community.
The delay in the vote led to a gunfight between government loyalists and others in April 2021, which they saw as an illegal extension of the president’s order.
Under pressure, Mohammed withdrew the extension and instructed the prime minister to engage with regional state leaders to create a new roadmap for the vote.
Whoever wins the election will face the urgent problem of insecurity, al-Shabab fighters have gained regional ground in recent months. Analysts say the new president should also help reduce tensions between regional states competing for limited resources.
“We hope that the next president will be one who can put the interests of the nation before his own and lead the country towards peace and prosperity,” said Farhan Isaac Youssef, deputy executive director of the Somali Public Agenda, a Mogadishu-based policy think tank. And research groups. “The decision is in the hands of lawmakers who are completely independent and not loyal to any particular group (but) are often manipulated by money.”