Members of Somalia’s parliament are meeting under heavy security to elect the troubled country’s next president.
Voting began Wednesday afternoon inside Mogadishu’s main airport, amid threats by militant group al-Shabab to disrupt the election.
Mortar rounds landed in neighborhoods near the airport Tuesday night, causing loud explosions but no casualties.
Journalists and international observers are watching as lawmakers cast their ballots into a transparent glass box.
The incumbent president, Hassan Sheikh Mohamud, is seeking re-election against 20 other candidates, including his predecessor, Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmed, and two former prime ministers. Three other candidates dropped out before voting began.
In speeches to parliament, candidates promised to restore security, boost the economy and fight against violent extremism.
The election takes place amid accusations of rampant corruption. Candidates are alleged to have given cash and gifts to lawmakers in exchange for votes, with one candidate reportedly paying more than $1.3 million.
If no candidate wins a majority in the first round of voting, the top three finishers will proceed to a second round. If there is still no winner, the top two candidates will face off in a third and final round.
Results are expected by Wednesday night.
Security beefed up
Government security forces along with African Union peacekeepers have imposed tight security measures to prevent an attack by al-Shabab on the election site.
All major roads and alleyways in the city leading to the airport and government bases have been sealed off and flights to and from the Mogadishu airport have been canceled. VOA stringers report that most of the schools and businesses in the city are shut down.
Movement around the venue has been limited and inside the venue the use of cellphones is prohibited.
“Due to the fact that mobile phones can be used for illegal political activities during the election and the fact that they can be used to carry out explosions, we have banned all phones. Even the MPs and the presidential candidates cannot bring their cell phones into the venue,” the chairman of the electoral committee, Abdurahman Beyle told VOA’s Somali service.
Millions of Somalis in and outside the country are watching the election on a live broadcast by Somali state television. The broadcast is being carried on the VOA Somali website, voasomali.com.
In northeastern Somalia, suspected al-Shabab militants launched an attack at dawn Wednesday on a hotel in the Red Sea port town of Bosaso.
Four hotel guards and the two attackers died during a gun battle.