Somali reelects president, 5 years after he was voted out

A former Somali president voted out of power in 2017 has been reelected to the country’s top job after defeating the incumbent leader in a protracted contest decided by legislators in a third round of voting late Sunday.

Hassan Sheikh Mohamud, who served as Somali president between 2012 and 2017, won the contest in the capital, Mogadishu, amid a security lockdown imposed by authorities to prevent deadly militant attacks. The first round of voting was contested by 36 aspirants, four of whom proceeded to the second round. With no candidate winning at least two-thirds of the 328 ballots, voting then went into a third round where Mohamud won by a simple majority.

Members of the upper and lower legislative chambers picked the president in secret balloting inside a tent in an airport hangar within the Halane military camp, which is protected by African Union peacekeepers. Mohamud’s election ended a protracted electoral process that raised political tensions — and heightened insecurity concerns — after President Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed’s mandate expired in February 2021 without a successor in place.

Mohamed and Mohamud sat side-by-side Sunday, watching calmly as the ballots were counted.

Celebratory gunfire rang out in parts of Mogadishu as it became clear that Mohamud had defeated the man who replaced him five years ago.

THIS IS A BREAKING NEWS UPDATE. AP’s earlier story follows below.

MOGADISHU, Somalia (AP) — Somalia’s presidential vote is proceeding to a third round Sunday, with the incumbent leader facing off against a former president.

Legislators are choosing the country’s next president in the capital, Mogadishu, which is under lockdown measures aimed at preventing deadly militant attacks.

President Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed and his immediate predecessor, Hassan Sheikh Mohamud, will now contest a third round of voting to be decided by 328 legislators. The field has been whittled down from a long list that featured 36 names in the first round of voting.

A simple majority is enough to choose a winner in the third round.

Analysts predicted that Mohamed — who also is known as Farmaajo because of his appetite for Italian cheese — would face an uphill battle to be reelected. No sitting president has ever won reelection in the Horn of Africa nation, where rival clans battle intensely for political power.

While Mohamed has made it to the third and final round, he is expected to face a strong challenge from the previous president, Mohamud.

Voting is taking place inside a tent in an airport hangar within the Halane military camp, which is protected by African Union peacekeepers.

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

“Movements are entirely prohibited, including traffic, businesses, schools and even people,” said police spokesman Abdifatah Adan Hassan.

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

“We urge the parliamentarians to vote their conscience by choosing the candidate they believe offers the policies and leadership qualities to advance peace, stability, prosperity, and sound governance in the years ahead,” the U.N. Assistance Mission in Somalia and others in the international community said in a statement late Saturday.

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

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

The poll delay triggered an exchange of gunfire in April 2021 between soldiers loyal to the government and others angry over what they saw as the president’s unlawful extension of his mandate.

Somalia began to fall apart in 1991, when warlords ousted dictator Siad Barre and then turned on each other. Years of conflict and al-Shabab attacks, along with famine, have shattered the country which has a long, strategic coastline by the Indian Ocean.

Ordinary Somalis are waiting for Sunday’s election outcome with bated breath.

“Today is a historic day which will determine who will rule the country for next four years. We pray for a president who can take Somalia out of its current situation to a promising and prosperous future,” said Mogadishu resident Abdi Mohamed. “Allah knows best and we ask for his guidance and mercy.”

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