By Mohammed Dhaysane and Felix Tih
Lawmakers gathered to select the country’s next president on Wednesday amid violence and tension across Somalia.
Members of the federal parliament met at a former air force base outside capital Mogadishu at 11 a.m. local time (0800GMT). The venue was chosen to provide maximum security to the MPs.
“The deployment of MPs is going on,” Abdifatah Mohamed Gesey, a representative for South West state, told Anadolu Agency by telephone. “I am at the election venue. Some MPs are already here.
“The presidential election commission and observers from the international community are also present. I hope the election will start soon.”
The threat posed to the democratic process, notably from al-Shabaab terrorists, was highlighted by a shooting at a village hotel in Puntland, northwest Ethoipia, on Wednesday. Police said six people were killed in al-Shabaab’s attack.
On Tuesday evening, four mortar bombs exploded around Mogadishu. There were no casualties.
The vote among 329 lawmakers will see a president selected from among 22 candidates for a four-year term.
Among the contenders are current incumbent Hassan Sheikh Mohamud, 61, who is seeking a second term after being selected to lead Somalia’s first constitutional government for 20 years in 2012. Mohamud is credited with turning away from clan-based politics and supporting anti-corruption measures, reconciliation and economic reforms.
Former President Sharif Sheikh Ahmed and ex-Prime Minister Omar Abdirashid Ali Sharmarke are other leading candidates.
Ahmed, 49, was president from 2009 to 2012 and is a former leader of the Islamic Courts Union. Sharmarke, 56, was premier from 2009 to 2010 before becoming Somalia’s ambassador to the U.S. and returning to the prime ministry in 2014. He is the son of former President Abdirashid Ali Shermarke, who was assassinated in 1969.
Many of Somalia’s politicial elite, including 20 of the presidential candidates, hold foreign passports, leading to suspicion among some voters about their overseas ties and possible foreign influence in the country.
More than 20,000 foreign troops are currently stationed in Somalia as part of the African Union Mission to Somalia fighting al-Shabaab.