The vote has been postponed more than once due to disagreement within the government but must take place this month to keep the IMF’s $400 million program on track.
This is happening during the worst drought in the Horn of Africa country in four decades.
Analysts have said it is unlikely that incumbent President Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed – known as “Farmago” for his famous love of Italian cheese – will win re-election after losing support in a parliamentary vote last month.
This leaves two former presidents among the top candidates: Sharif Sheikh Ahmed (2009-2012) and Hassan Sheikh Mahmoud (2012-2017).
Analysts say the president of the semi-autonomous Puntland region, Said Abdullahi Deni, also has a good chance.
Of the 36 candidates, only one is former Foreign Minister Fawzia Yousef Adam. About 329 parliamentarians from both houses are entitled to vote.
Ahmed, a former Islamist, took over the Western-backed transitional government in 2009, set up the national army and helped drive the youth out of Mogadishu.
Another former president, Mahmoud, was a peace activist and academic.
Although it has been fractured by civil war since 1991, Somalia has made relatively peaceful leadership changes every four years since 2000, although the last change has been delayed since 2021.