The venue for Somalia’s presidential election next week has been moved from the police academy to inside the Mogadishu airport because of concerns about security and possible corruption.
Sources close to the candidates and the electoral commission reported the news to VOA’s Somali service on Saturday.
The move came after 18 of the 24 presidential candidates wrote to the election commission, expressing concern about a number of issues, including security and corruption, sources confirmed.
The 329 members of the upper and lower houses of parliament will vote for the president Wednesday. A candidate must get two-thirds of the vote to win outright in the first round; observers think a first-round victory by any candidate is highly unlikely.
Abdirahman Abdishakur Warsame, one of the candidates, told VOA he was one of those who signed the letter to the commission. The letter demanded a change of venue.
Warsame said the candidates lost confidence in the original venue after reports emerged that the commander of the police publicly expressed support for the current president, Hassan Sheikh Mohamud.
“The lights in the venue [the police academy] can be turned off in the middle of the election. We don’t know who will control the gates, and it’s not a neutral venue,” he told VOA’s Somali service.
During a speech at a ceremony in late December, the police commander, General Mohamed Sheikh Hassan, told Mohamud that he could “count on” votes by former police officers who now have become members of the parliament.
Warsame said candidates seeking a venue change also thought the police academy was vulnerable to possible “acts of corruption.”
“Some candidates may try to smuggle money into the venue, so we asked to be changed,” Warsame said.
Another source told VOA the venue was not changed because of the security issue, but because many candidates felt the police academy was “too compromised.”
Election Commission Chairman Abdirahman Duale Beyle confirmed to VOA that the venue had been changed to the Mogadishu airport.
Beyle said the majority of the candidates made the request and said he didn’t think the remaining candidates would object to it.
“The objective is to make sure we find a transparent venue,” he said.
Beyle confirmed that the new venue of the election would be the Somali air force academy on the eastern side of Mogadishu’s international airport, which is not far from the police academy. He said it had been considered a “second option” for the commission.
Mogadishu’s airport is a large vicinity in the southern part of Mogadishu, near the Indian Ocean. The airport also hosts the headquarters of the African Union troops and a number of foreign embassies.
The police academy hosted the 2012 presidential election, and the parliamentarians chose Mohamud.
VOA’s Sahra Abdi Ahmed contributed to this story.