17th March, 2012
The small coup-prone west African state of Guinea-Bissau goes to the polls on Sunday to elect a new president — an office no one has yet held for a full five-year term.
Since independence from Portugal in 1974, achieved after an 11-year armed conflict, three presidents have been overthrown by coups, and one was assassinated in office in 2009.
The most recent president, Malam Bacai Sanha, died in January after a long illness, prompting Sunday’s election.
Nine candidates are running for office, but only four have a fighting chance.
These include Carlos Gomes Junior, 60, who stepped down as prime minister to run in the election as the candidate for the ruling African Party for the Independence of Guinea and Cape Verde (APIGCV),
The others are Kumba Yala, who ruled Guinea-Bissau from 2000 to 2003, lawmaker Manuel Serifo Nhamadjo and Henrique Rosa, a former businessman.
Some 180 foreign observers from the Economic Community of West African States, the African Union, the Community of Portuguese-Speaking Countries, Britain, the United States, Nigeria and South Africa are to monitor the polls.
The United States and UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon have called for a peaceful, orderly and transparent election.
Washington has suspended crucial economic and military aid to the country pending greater commitment to army reforms.
A two-week election campaign ended Friday with several rallies in a carnaval-like atmosphere in the capital.
Soldiers and para-military troops were the first to vote on Thursday, three days before the rest of the country, so as to be available should trouble arise.
The National Elections Commission said the vote concerned some 4,400 members of the armed forces out of a total 579,000 registered voters.