By OMAR FARUK, Associated Press

MOGADISHU, Somalia (AP) — Somali lawmakers gather Sunday to elect the country’s president in the capital, Mogadishu, which is under lockdown measures aimed at preventing deadly attacks by militants.

Some 36 candidates are vying for the presidency, including incumbent leader Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed and two of his predecessors: Hassan Sheikh Mohamud and Sharif Sheikh Ahmed. Puntland regional state leader Said Dani is also seen as a frontrunner. The wide range of candidates includes a woman, Fawzia Yusuf Haji Adam, a lawmaker who once served as Somalia’s foreign minister.

Voting is taking place under a tent in a hangar at the Halane military camp airport, which is protected by African Union peacekeepers. The voting process is expected to last until Sunday evening, especially if second and third ballots are required. To win in the first round, a candidate must obtain two-thirds of the votes, or 219 ballots.

To discourage extremist violence from disrupting elections, Somali police put Mogadishu, the scene of regular attacks by the Islamic rebel group al-Shabab, under a lockdown that began at 9 p.m. Saturday. That means most residents must stay home until the lockdown is lifted on Monday morning, police say.

Political cartoons about world leaders

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“Movement is completely prohibited, including traffic, businesses, schools and even people,” said police spokesman Abdifatah Adan Hassan.

Analysts say current President Mohamed – also known as Farmaajo because of his appetite for Italian cheese – faces an uphill battle to be re-elected. No sitting president has ever been re-elected in the Horn of Africa nation, where rival clans are intensely battling for political power.

The goal of a direct, one person, one vote election in Somalia, a country of about 12 million people, remains elusive largely because of widespread extremist violence. Authorities had planned a direct election this time, but instead the federal government and the states agreed on another “indirect election,” with lawmakers elected by community leaders — delegates from powerful clans — in each Member State.

The 329 lawmakers from both houses of parliament will choose the president by secret ballot.

“We urge parliamentarians to vote according to their conscience in choosing the candidate who they believe offers the policies and leadership qualities needed to advance peace, stability, prosperity and good governance in the years to come,” said the United Nations Assistance Mission in Somalia and other members of the international community. said in a statement Saturday evening.

Despite its lingering insecurity, Somalia has seen peaceful changes of leadership every four years since 2000, and it has the distinction of having the first democratically elected African president to step down peacefully, Aden Abdulle Osman in 1967.

Mohamed’s four-year term expired in February 2021, but he remained in office after the lower house of parliament approved a two-year extension of his term and that of the federal government, sparking fury from Senate leaders and criticism from the international community.

The postponement of the poll sparked an April 2021 gunfight between soldiers loyal to the government and others angry at what they saw as the president’s illegal extension of his term.

Somalia began to crumble in 1991, when warlords toppled dictator Siad Barre and then turned on each other. Years of conflict and attacks by al-Shabab, as well as famine, have shattered the country which has a long strategic coastline bordering the Indian Ocean.

Ordinary Somalis are eagerly awaiting the outcome of Sunday’s elections.

“Today is a historic day that will determine who will lead the country for the next four years. We pray for a president who can lead Somalia out of its current situation into a bright and prosperous future,” said Abdi Mohamed, a resident of Mogadishu: “Allah knows best and we ask for His guidance and mercy.

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