Two former presidents will face off against the incumbent in Somalia’s long-delayed presidential vote on Sunday behind blast walls to protect lawmakers from Islamist attacks or meddling by factions within the security services.
President Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed is among 39 candidates seeking the top post, to be chosen by parliamentarians in an airport hangar as the government’s tenuous grip on the nation makes a popular vote impossible.
The winner will inherit a daunting list of challenges including the worst drought in 40 years, a violent conflict entering its fourth decade, clan feuds, and a power struggle between the government and federal member states.
“I am the most deserving person who can take Somalia to one man, one vote,” President Mohamed, known as Farmaajo for his reputed love of Italian cheese, told lawmakers on Thursday.
However, he will struggle to secure enough votes after allies failed to win senior roles in parliament last month, analysts said. That election was marred by a face-off between African Union peacekeepers and security forces loyal to the president who blocked entries to the hangar.
Intelligence agents were also accused by two politicians of opening fire on a lawmaker’s car and getting into a shootout outside a hotel where parliament was meeting a few days before.
At his inauguration in 2017, Mohamed promised to “finish” al Shabaab, an al Qaeda franchise, but the insurgents’ attacks and extortion of households and businesses have continued.
Last year, Mohamed’s failed bid to extend his term by two years sparked street battles in the capital Mogadishu as security forces split. His attempts to centralize power have irked regional leaders.