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Somali lawmakers are checked by security forces as they arrive to cast their vote in the presidential election, at the Halane military camp which is protected by African Union peacekeepers, in Mogadishu, Somalia, on May 15.Farah Abdi Warsameh/The Associated Press

Former president Hassan Sheikh Mohamud has returned to power in Somalia, winning a rematch against the man who beat him in the last election and ending a protracted period of instability in the country’s highest political office.

Street rallies and celebratory gunfire erupted in Mogadishu at midnight on Sunday night after the results were announced in a heavily guarded airport hangar where more than 320 legislators had gathered to cast ballots at a military base near the city’s international airport.

For more than a year, incumbent president Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed had delayed the mandatory election that would threaten his grip on power. Even after his term expired last year, he found ways to extend his rule with support from parliamentary allies. Critics said he had become authoritarian, and the tensions spilled over into sporadic violence.

But on Sunday, he was pushed out of office as Mr. Mohamud prevailed over his rival in three rounds of voting. He won by a final count of 214 to 110 among parliamentarians who cast ballots.

Mr. Mohamud had trailed in the first round of voting, running third with the incumbent president leading. But the next two rounds showed that he was able to build a consensus among nearly two-thirds of the legislators, while Mr. Mohamed failed to record much growth in his support.

Mr. Mohamud served as Somalia’s president from 2012 to 2017, until he was defeated by Mr. Mohamed in the election that year. He took the oath of office for his new presidential term on Sunday night, just minutes after the results were announced.

He is seen as a moderate and a conciliator who has a chance to pull together the country’s divided factions. But he takes office at a time when Somalia is besieged by disasters, including a fierce insurgency by Islamist militants and a devastating drought that has tipped into famine in some regions.

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In a reminder of the prolonged civil war, a volley of mortar shells was reportedly fired toward Mogadishu’s airport on Sunday as the balloting was under way, with the explosions audible to the voters inside the hangar.

The city was under lockdown during the voting. Most streets were empty because of a curfew imposed from Saturday night to Monday morning.

The format of the election itself was another sign of Somalia’s decades-long crisis. The government had promised a fully democratic election this time, with each Somali adult allowed to vote. But instead it was yet another indirect election. Ballots were cast only by parliamentarians who had been chosen earlier by powerful clan leaders and other community representatives.

The 36 candidates in the presidential election were narrowed to four after the first ballot. Only one of the candidates was a woman: former foreign minister Fawzia Yusuf Adam, who did not win enough votes to advance to the second ballot.

Somalia’s presidential elections have been notoriously corrupt, and local journalists reported that some legislators were haggling over vote-buying offers in the days before the election.

But the international community, which provides billions of dollars in aid to prop up Somalia’s government, had pushed for an election to be held this year to preserve peace in the country.

In a statement on the eve of the election, 26 international organizations and governments – including Canada’s – urged the parliamentarians to “vote their conscience by choosing the candidate they believe offers the policies and leadership qualities to advance peace, stability, prosperity and sound governance.”

Somalia also faced the potential loss of a crucial US$400-million budget support program from the International Monetary Fund if it had failed to hold a presidential election this month.

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