Guinea-Bissau votes in presidential run-off

Bissau – Voters go to the polls on Sunday in Guinea-Bissau where two former heads of state are in a run-off to lead the coup-ridden West African nation which has become a haven for drug runners.

The two ex leaders, Malam Bacai Sanha and Kumba Yala, are in the second stage of the ballot after winning the biggest share of the vote in a first round on June 28.

The election was triggered when president Joao Bernardo Vieira was assassinated by soldiers on March 2, in apparent revenge for the murder of army chief General Batista Tagme Na Waie in a bomb attack.

In June, the army killed two senior political figures in what they claimed was an operation to foil a coup plot.

A new leader will hope to bring a degree of stability to the former Portuguese colony of 1,3 million people, which has been wracked by repeated coups since independence in 1974.

It has also been overwhelmed by the international drugs trade, becoming a key transit point in cocaine smuggling between South America and Europe.

But another priority for the new president will simply be clinging to power.

None of the three presidents elected in the past 15 years has managed to complete his full, five-year term.

The murder of Vieira, who ruled Guinea-Bissau for much of the past 25 years, came about a decade after the military ousted him during a previous stint as president.

And Yala, 56, who is in the running on Sunday as head of the Social Renewal Party, was forced out by the army in 2003.

His time in office, from 2000 until his overthrow, was marked by fiscal mismanagement and sweeping arrests of opposition figures.

Sanha, 62, the candidate for the ruling African Party for the Independence of Guinea and Cape Verde (PAIGC), served as interim president from June 1999 to May 2000.

Yala and Sanha have already faced each other in a second-round runoff for the Guinea-Bissau’s presidency in 2000, when Yala emerged victorious.

The election’s second round has become heated, with Yala accusing his opponent’s ruling party of being responsible for the country’s problems, including Vieira’s murder.

The army has warned the candidates to stop their “verbal assaults”, adding it would not “tolerate any acts that put at risk” the country’s peace and stability.

A police and military force almost 5 000-strong will be deployed during the vote to guard against possible trouble during the traditionally tense post-election period, according to the country’s National Electoral Commission (CNE).

Both rounds of the election were financed entirely by the international community at a cost of €5,1-million.

The CNE says about 150 international observers will be on the ground on Sunday for the vote, which was brought forward from August 2 to July 26.

The original date clashed with the harvesting season in Guinea-Bissau, which has a mainly rural economy.

The turnout in the first round dropped to 60 percent, the lowest ever registered in the country.


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