MOGADISHU - Somali lawmakers were choosing a president under tight security Wednesday, with roads closed and residents urged to remain indoors over fears of a strike on the capital by Shabaab militants.
Freshly elected MPs and senators held a first round of voting in a hangar at the airport, in the capital's most secured zone, whittling down a field of 21 candidates to three veteran politicians from two of the country's main clans.
For a second round, incumbent President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud, 61 -- in the lead with 88 votes -- is facing off against fellow Hawiye clansman ex-president Sharif Sheikh Ahmed, 52 and former premier Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed 'Farmajo', 55, who is a Darod.
In the absence of political parties, clan remains the organising principle of Somali politics, and the multiple different clans will likely shift their strategies in subsequent rounds until one candidate wins a two-thirds majority.
The long, drawn-out election has largely consisted of horsetrading between different clans, with widespread allegations of vote-buying and corruption, leaving it a distant process to the average Somali, who is also unlikely to see much benefit from its outcome.
The internationally-backed government still has limited control over a country where swathes of countryside are controlled by Al-Qaeda-linked Al-Shabaab militants who regularly launch deadly strikes against Mogadishu.
- Limited vote -
The country, renowned as the world's foremost failed state, in 2012 held the first elections inside its own borders sine the 1991 overthrow of Siad Barre's military regime which led to decades of anarchy and the rise of the Shabaab.
Then 135 clan elders picked the lawmakers who went on to elect the president.
In 2016 Somalia had been promised a one-person, one-vote election. However political infighting and insecurity saw the plan ditched for a limited vote running six months behind schedule.
Although the election is billed as its most democratic in nearly five decades, only 14,000 delegates were able to vote for lawmakers in a drawn out process marred by accusations of vote-buying and corruption.
Those lawmakers -- 275 lower house MPs and 54 senators -- are now electing the new president.
- Lockdown -
Fears of violence were palpable in Mogadishu which has been on lockdown since Tuesday ahead of the vote, with main roads blocked off by big mounds of sand, and only heavily-armed security personnel patrolling the streets.
Schools were closed and residents urged to stay inside.
Security sources said commercial flights would not be operating throughout election day as lawmakers vote at the airport, situated within a secure compound which is home to diplomats, aid workers and soldiers.
Tense residents reported heavy fighting between AMISOM troops and Shabaab militants at a military base outside the capital on Tuesday night.
"There was a heavy exchange of gunfire including anti-aircraft weapons, the attack was targeting the AMISOM base in (the village of) Arbacow," said Dahir Abdikarin, a witness who lives in a nearby village.
Other residents also reported heavy gunfire, while mortar shells landed in several neighbourhoods of Mogadishu.
"The initial information... indicates there were several rounds of mortar shells fired onto the city, we don't have details and the security forces are pursuing the culprits," Somali police commander Ibrahim Mohamed said.
No casualties were reported.