Guinea-Bissau presidential elections: Fate of results in the hands of the military?

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The second round of presidential elections in Guinea-Bissau, Sunday, saw two political elephants standing against each other: Malam Bacai Sanha (African Party for the Independence of Guinea and Cape Verde, ruling party) and Koumba Yalla (Social Renovation Party, opposition). The two made development and the fight against violence a number one concern in their manifestos. The country’s history is deeply rooted in instability and drug trafficking.

The two candidates taking part in the second round of presidential elections in Guinea-Bissau, Malam Bacai Sanha (PAIGC, the former single party) and Kumba Yalla (PRS) have both promised to end the spate of violence in the small west African nation. “Nobody will be murdered in Guinea-Bissau if I win the presidential election,” Malam Sanha promised his supporters. While his rival, Kumba Yalla pledged to “end the murders and the PAIGC’s totalitarian tendencies” and “change attitudes”.

Indeed, life in the former Portuguese colony since its independence in 1974, has been punctuated by coups d’états and political assassinations. The two candidates’ boisterous political careers prove the country’s instability. Malam Bacai Sanha and Koumba Yalla have both occupied the presidential seat, albeit briefly. The first ruled after the “Mane” exception. Named after General Mane, the head of the junta who deposed the late President Nino Vierra in 1999. The second candidate, Mr. Yalla was elected “democratically” to power in 2002 after the reign of the junta. He was, however, deposed in 2003 by General Verissimo Cebra, then head of the army.

The president elect will succeed Jaoa Bernardo “Nino” Vieira, who was assassinated March 2, 2009, four years after his return to power. The assassination has been blamed on mutinous soldiers, but many believe his death is linked to organised crime: precisely, to drug trafficking by organised drug traffickers using the country as a transit route between Latin America and the West. Guinea-Bissau is widely known to be a drug hub. Both Malam Bacai Sanha and Kumba Yalla not only stressed on the importance of ending violence during their campaign, but also insisted that the trend undermines the country’s development. Guinea-Bissau, the third poorest country in the world, has struggled to attract international investors. Guinea Bissau’s economy almost solely relies on the production of cashew nuts, which officially provides 60% of the country’s income.

Promise of change

“I urge all my fellow countrymen to stand up as one man to fight against poverty,” said Malam Bacai Sanha, as he ended his campaign in a meeting in the Biombo region. “Development”, according to him, is the sine qua non of “peace, security and stability.” Kumba Yalla on his part, stressed that “people live in total insecurity, which is why foreigners can neither invest nor live in our country.” Promising to fight against drug trafficking, he reminded eveyone that his programme provides for the improvement of health and educational infrastructures, as well as the construction of universities in all regions of the country.”

While the campaign for the first round of elections was marked by the military’s killing of presidential candidates; Baciro Dabo (former Minister of Territorial Administration and a close ally of former President Vieira) and Helder Proença (former Minister of Defense), the second round campaign went on without any major incidents. The President of the National Electoral Commission (CNE), Desejado Lima Da Costa, Saturday said that Guinea-Bissau was “ready” for a free and democratic election. The Head of Mission of observers from the European Union, Johan Van Hecke, also indicated that in what concerns the general “technical planand logistics”, no complaint had been registered.

In the June 28 first round polling results, Malam Bacai led with 39.59% of the vote, ahead of Kumba Yala who garnered 29.42%, while Henrique Rosa got 24%. The abstention rate recorded for the presidential elections was 40%. Approximately 600 000 people had registered to vote. 28% people voted during the 2008 legislative election. Turnout rate for the second round is estimated to be close to the first round with estimations varying between 50 and 60 per cent. According to local sources, the low turnout is due to the beginning of the rainy season, which does not facilitate the movement of people to polling stations. With only 10% separating the two candidates during the first round, victory will depend on whoever is able to draw support from Henrique Rosa’s camp. Henrique Rosa is believed to have supported Kumba Yalla. But in a country where the military has the last word in politics, their attitude could play a vital role on the final results.

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