Somalia holds a groundbreaking presidential election Wednesday amid a security lockdown that has closed the capital's international airport and cleared major streets. Fears of attacks by Islamic extremist group al-Shabab have limited the election to the country's legislators, who will vote at the airport, a heavily guarded former air force base in the capital, Mogadishu, the AP reports. It is considered the country's most secure site. Rounds of voting are expected to narrow down the 22 candidates to a winner. The nation, shattered by years of warlord-led conflict and al-Shabab attacks, along with famine, is trying to put together its first fully functioning central government in a quarter-century.
The legislators voting Wednesday—275 members of the lower legislative house and 54 senators—were selected by the country's powerful network of clans. Weeks ago, a joint statement by the UN, the US, European Union, and others warned of "egregious cases of abuse of the electoral process." Examples included violence, intimidation, and men taking seats that had been reserved for female candidates, the statement said. With reports of votes being sold for up to $30,000 apiece, "this is probably the most expensive election, per vote, in history," Mogadishu-based anti-corruption group Marqaati said. Militants launched fresh attacks late Tuesday, with two mortar rounds landing near the election venue, the BBC reports.