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Somalia's leader battles his predecessor for presidency

By Mustafa HAJI ABDINUR
Somalia The vote, which has been dogged by claims of irregularities, is expected to draw a line under a political crisis that has lasted well over a year.  By STRINGER AFP
MAY 15, 2022 LISTEN
The vote, which has been dogged by claims of irregularities, is expected to draw a line under a political crisis that has lasted well over a year. By STRINGER (AFP)

Somalia's president battled his predecessor for the top job Sunday in long-overdue elections in the troubled Horn of Africa nation, as it confronts an Islamist insurgency and the threat of famine.

As MPs voted in a tent inside Mogadishu's heavily-guarded airport complex, explosions were heard nearby, underscoring the treacherous security situation in the country, which has seen an increase in attacks by Al-Shabaab jihadists in recent months.

Police said no casualties were reported in the blasts, with little movement seen in the capital Sunday where police have imposed a curfew until Monday.

After hours of voting involving 36 candidates, the complicated election process entered its third and final round, with President Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed, better known as Farmajo, facing off against his predecessor Hassan Sheikh Mohamud in a repeat of the pair's contest in 2017.

The winner will now be decided on the basis of a simple majority.

Map of Somalia locating Mogadishu.  By Vincent LEFAI AFPFile Map of Somalia locating Mogadishu. By Vincent LEFAI (AFP/File)

The vote, which has been dogged by claims of irregularities, is expected to draw a line under a political crisis that has lasted well over a year, after Farmajo's term ended in February 2021 without an election.

His attempt to extend his rule by decree triggered violent street battles in Mogadishu between rival factions before international pressure prompted him to ask Prime Minister Mohamed Hussein Roble to seek consensus on a way forward.

Somalia's international partners have repeatedly warned that the election delays -- caused by political infighting -- were a dangerous distraction from the fight against the Al-Qaeda-linked insurgents who have been fighting to overthrow the government for more than a decade.

In addition to a months-long feud between Farmajo and Roble, the central government has also been embroiled in disputes with certain states, slowing down the voting process and frustrating citizens.

"We are tired of living with uncertainty... I hope a president will be elected and today is the end of the nonsense," Muktar Ali, a Mogadishu resident, told AFP.

'Alliances rather than ideas'

Somalia has not held a one-person, one-vote election in 50 years. Instead, polls follow a complex indirect model, whereby state legislatures and clan delegates pick lawmakers for the national parliament, who in turn choose the president.

Somalia's international partners have repeatedly warned that the election delays -- caused by political infighting -- were a dangerous distraction from the fight against Al-Shabaab.  By STRINGER AFP Somalia's international partners have repeatedly warned that the election delays -- caused by political infighting -- were a dangerous distraction from the fight against Al-Shabaab. By STRINGER (AFP)

"In terms of predicting the outcome, Somalia politics is notoriously difficult to predict, especially because it is an indirect, sort of closed system with MPs voting for the president," said Omar Mahmood, an analyst at the International Crisis Group (ICG) think-tank.

"At the end of the day, I think it's... predominantly about alliances and relationships rather than concrete ideas," he told AFP.

Samira Gaid, executive director of the Mogadishu-based Hiraal Institute think tank, told AFP ahead of the election that familiar names would enjoy an advantage in the polls.

"People will not go for a new face, they will definitely go for old faces, people that they recognise, people that they feel they're more comfortable with," she said.

The contenders have vowed to tackle Somalia's myriad problems and bring relief to citizens weary of jihadist violence, surging inflation and a worsening drought.  By Hassan Ali ELMI, Hassan Ali ELMI AFPFile The contenders have vowed to tackle Somalia's myriad problems and bring relief to citizens weary of jihadist violence, surging inflation and a worsening drought. By Hassan Ali ELMI, Hassan Ali ELMI (AFP/File)

As the delays have dragged on, the country has also been in the grip of surging inflation and a devastating drought that threatens to drive millions into famine.

UN agencies have warned of a humanitarian catastrophe unless early action is taken, with emergency workers fearing a repeat of the devastating 2011 famine, which killed 260,000 people -- half of them children under the age of six.

Insurgents emboldened

The heavily indebted country is also at risk of losing access to a three-year $400-million (380-million-euro) aid package from the International Monetary Fund (IMF), which is set to automatically expire by mid-May if a new administration is not in place by then.

The government has asked for a three-month extension until August 17, according to the IMF, which has not yet responded to the request.

UN agencies have warned of a humanitarian catastrophe unless early action is taken to prevent a famine.  By TONY KARUMBA AFPFile UN agencies have warned of a humanitarian catastrophe unless early action is taken to prevent a famine. By TONY KARUMBA (AFP/File)

Over 70 percent of Somalia's population lives on less than $1.90 a day.

The international community has long warned the Farmajo government that the political chaos has allowed Al-Shabaab to exploit the situation and carry out more frequent and large-scale attacks.

Twin suicide bombings in March killed 48 people in central Somalia, including two local lawmakers.

Earlier this month, an attack on an African Union (AU) base killed 10 Burundian peacekeepers, according to Burundi's army. It was the deadliest raid on AU forces in the country since 2015.

The insurgents controlled Mogadishu until 2011 when they were pushed out by an African Union force, but still hold territory in the countryside.

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