Sunday, 18 May 2014 12:23
BISSAU: Guinea-Bissau prepared to elect a new president on Sunday in a key test for a fragile state plagued by powerful cocaine cartels and upended in a military coup two years ago.
Already mired in poverty, the west African nation has been stagnating since 2012 under the rule of a transitional government backed by its all-powerful military, with the economy anaemic and drug trafficking fuelling corruption.
"I would like every Bissau-Guinean to get up very early to go vote massively to show that Guinea-Bissau is capable of turning the page definitively on instability," election commission chairman Augusto Mendes said on the eve of the vote.
Former finance minister Jose Mario Vaz won the first round on April 13 -- the first presidential vote since the army put a stop to the 2012 election -- but failed to get an outright majority and faces runner-up Nuno Gomes Nabiam in the run-off.
"We have very good conditions in terms of the organisation of the election. All equipment is in place in the regional election commissions, which are at work distributing it," Mendes added.
An election commission source said 3,048 polling stations would open from 7:00 am (0700 GMT) until 6:00 pm.
"The big unknown is what the role of the army will be, taking into account that it intervened in 2012 to stop the process," said Bissau-based political analyst Bamba Kote.
"The military high command supports Nuno but will the army dare to intervene again in the current context, with a large number of observers and the international community closely following the process?"
- Colombian rebels -
The ex-Portuguese colony is the only west African nation to have achieved independence through military force and, since 1974, the army and state have been in constant, often deadly, competition.
Its 1.6 million people have suffered intermittent unrest since liberation, as well as a series of military coups attributed largely to the unprecedented bloating of the army after the war.
This has lead to chronic instability and a dysfunctional state which, with its porous coastline and archipelago of islands, provided fertile ground for Latin American drug lords looking for a hub to ship their cocaine to Europe.
Guinea Bissau has never had an elected president finish his term in office.
The United States charged 2012 coup leader Antonio Indjai in April last year with drug trafficking and seeking to sell arms to Colombian FARC rebels, although he has not been extradited and remains in Bissau.
Vaz, the favourite and a member of the ruling African Party for the Independence of Guinea-Bissau and Cape Verde, has vowed to pursue "ongoing dialogue" with the army if he wins.
With a 40.9 percent share of the first round vote against Nabiam's 24.8 percent, the 57-year-old father-of-three is the establishment candidate.
Independent candidate Nabiam, an engineer, has campaigned as the "unifying" choice, capable of bringing stability to his country.
The election will be the first since Indjai agreed in May 2012 to hand power to a civilian transitional regime headed by President Manuel Serifo Nhamadjo.
Around 4,000 troops will ensure security while 245 observers from various countries will gather evidence of whether voting and the count have been conducted fairly and credibly.
Results are expected within five days of polling booths closing. Copyright AFP (Agence France-Presse), 2014