Guinea-Bissau votes for president amid tensions

November 25, 2019

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BISSAU: Voters cast their ballot on Sunday in Guinea-Bissau for a presidential election they hope will bring calm amid a backdrop of continued political tensions and unrest on the streets in the West African country.

No incidents were reported as more than 33,000 polling stations received ballots. The country has more than 760,000 registered voters.

Twelve candidates are running for head of state, including incumbent Jose Mario Vaz, who has been in power since 2014.

He is the first democratically elected president to complete a full term in a country that has seen a number of coups and attempted coups. Vaz is also running against two of the prime ministers he has fired during his five years in office.

Prime Minister Aristides Gomes warned that the election wont resolve Guinea-Bissaus problems like a magic wand.

He said the new head of state would need to help stabilise the country’s recent tumultuous history.

Guinea-Bissau, a former Portuguese colony of around 1.5 million people, is one of the world’s poorest countries. It has been plagued by political instability, poverty, corruption and drug trafficking, especially cocaine. The most recent military coup was in 2012.

The candidates’ agendas include promises to fight the cocaine smuggling that has used Guinea-Bissau as a staging post between Latin America and Europe, prompting the United Nations to describe the country as a narco state.

If no candidate captures more than 50pc of Sunday’s vote, a runoff ballot is to be held between the two top candidates on Dec 29.

Last month, one person died and three others were injured when police used tear gas to break up an unauthorised street march organised by opposition parties.

In a power struggle barely three weeks before the election, Vaz, the incumbent, fired Gomes, the prime minister, and his cabinet, who were elected last March.

Vaz replaced Gomes with Faustino Fudut Imbali, but Gomes refused to leave office, saying the order to leave was invalid because Vaz’s term legally ended on June 23.

The attempt to remove Gomes prompted an international outcry and appeals for stability from the United Nations, the European Union and the 15-nation Economic Community of West African States, with observers warning of a threat of civil war.

The West African bloc, ECOWAS, called the move by the president illegal and threatened sanctions. Imbali then resigned.

Vaz’s strongest rival is former prime minister Domingos Simoes Pereira, who Vaz fired in 2015. That move led to years of tension between the head of state and parliament.

Guinea-Bissau became independent from Portugal in 1974, but it has struggled to get any momentum in its economic growth. Most people farm for a living.

Published in Dawn, November 25th, 2019