, MOGADISHU, Sep 10 – Somalia’s incumbent Sharif Sheikh Ahmed faced a little-known outsider in a presidential runoff vote on Monday which UN brokers have billed as a major milestone in stabilising the ear-torn nation.
Many sceptical observers had voiced fears that the vote by lawmakers would simply return the same corruption-tainted leadership but dark horse Hassan Sheikh Mohamud, an academic and activist, was neck-and-neck with Sharif.
The first round saw Sharif garner 64 votes to Mohamud’s 60 while the outgoing prime minister, who had been tipped as a serious contender, crashed out. The runoff vote was already under way and expected to yield a victor later on Monday.
Mohamud, a largely unknown candidate comes from the same clan as Sharif. Analysts say he has been actively involved with Somalia’s NGO community.
He is an academic and a political activist who has worked for several national and international peace and development organisations.
Parliament Speaker Mohamed Osman Jawari, elected by his peers in August, was the first to cast his vote in the presidential poll where 25 candidates were in the running, including the outgoing transitional president Sharif Sheikh Ahmed.
The election is the final stage of a UN-backed process to set up a new administration for the war-torn Horn of Africa country.
The new parliamentarians, selected last month by a group of traditional elders, rose one after the other amid tight security to cast their ballots in a packed room at the police academy.
African Union and UN security officials conducted body searches and fingerprint checks on all those allowed anywhere near the venue.
No candidate took two-thirds of the vote for an outright win in the first round, necessitating the run-off, which is expected later Monday.
Each candidate had to pay $10,000 (7,900 euros) to enter the race
Each candidate had to pay $10,000 (7,900 euros) to enter the race.
The election has been delayed several times, missing an August 20 deadline, and international pressure has increased on parliament to choose a president swiftly.
The UN’s special representative for Somalia, Augustine Mahiga, said Monday said that while obstacles remain, the presidential election will “mark another milestone in the country’s political process”.