By Mohamed Odowa, dpa
Mogadishu, Feb. 8, (dpa/GNA) – Somalia's newly elected parliament started voting Wednesday to elect the country's next president at Mogadishu airport, regarded as the safest place in the capital which has been targeted by the radical Islamist group al-Shabaab.
Incumbent President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud was facing 20 challengers including his Prime Minister Omar Abdirashid Ali Sharmarke, former premier Mohamed Abdullahi Farmajo and former president Sharif Sheikh Ahmed, a moderate Islamist.
Analysts said none of the candidates was likely to get the two-thirds of the vote needed to win in the first round, making a second and even third round necessary.
A member of the electoral commission who did not want to be named told dpa that the election venue had been moved from the initially planned police academy to the airport complex because of security concerns.
The police academy was also not regarded as a suitable venue because a police chief had expressed support for Mohamud, sparking concerns over fraud, said an opposition candidate who asked not to be identified.
The parliamentary elections late last year did not give every eligible citizen a vote, partly because of the security threat posed by al-Shabaab. The 275 members of the lower house were chosen by electoral colleges, and 54 upper house members by state assemblies.
The presidential election was taking place under heavy security, with traffic and flights banned and soldiers patrolling the capital.
In the morning, suspected al-Shabaab militants attacked a hotel in the northern port city of Bosaso and were repelled by security forces. Four hotel guards and two militants were killed, regional officials said.
On Tuesday evening, suspected al-Shabaab militants fired mortars in Mogadishu, reportedly injuring five people.
The presidential election is seen as important step for Somalia, which fell into chaos following the collapse of the dictatorship of Mohamed Siad Barre in 1991, and which is now gradually consolidating its fledgling democracy.
The new president and parliament will face the challenges of diversifying an economy still largely dependent on livestock and money transfers from Somalis living abroad, and – above all - defeating al-Shabaab.
The group's decade-long battle against the government, backed by African Union troops, has claimed thousands of lives. Al-Shabaab has frequently targeted government buildings and hotels in Mogadishu.