Voice of America (Washington, DC)

11 April 2014

Guinea Bissau: Guinea-Bissau Holds First Post-Coup Election

Photo: RFI
Former president Kumba Yala.

Dakar — Guinea-Bissau goes to the polls Sunday for a much-awaited presidential and parliamentary election.

The country is trying to move on from two years of uncertainty that followed an April 2012 military coup. Political analysts say this election marks the arrival of a new generation of politicians, something they say bodes well for a fresh start after decades of instability.

Bissau-Guineans vote Sunday for a new president and a new parliament. Both will have a role in appointing the new prime minister.

It has been almost two years since Guinea Bissau tried to hold an election. In April 2012, a military coup disrupted that presidential poll as it headed to a run-off.

There are 13 presidential candidates this time and no clear frontrunner. Analysts say they expect it to go to a second round. There are several first-time or independent candidates.

The two prominent political figures that were headed to the presidential run-off back in 2012 are not running this time. Both men were controversial when it came to the country's tumultuous political-military relations.

Guinea Bissau analyst Elisabete Azevedo-Harman of London-based Chatham House:

"It's really interesting that you come up for these elections with the two main parties for the first time with a different generation leading for the election. That makes the parties weaker. Yes, it's true that they don't have the charisma of previous candidates that are well known by the population but maybe it's a good sign for the need to have the short-term balance between the military and the politics," said Azevedo-Harman.

Former president Kumba Yala died earlier this month. He had already resigned from his party, the PIS, and was backing an independent who had also emerged from the PIS, Nuno Gomes Nabian.

Former prime minister Carlos Gomes Junior had been expected to win the 2012 run-off but was instead forced into exile after the coup. He remains in Portugal.

His party, the PAIGC, the largest party in the country, changed leadership at its last party congress. The PAIGC put Jose Mario Vaz on the ticket for this election. Vaz is a former finance minister who also served as mayor of the capital, Bissau.

The sad state of the country's economy has figured prominently in this campaign.

Vaz has told voters that it is time to stop with all the political intrigue and get down to work. He has pledged to work in cooperation with the new government to revitalize the cashew nut and rice sectors. He says it is ridiculous for the country to be importing so much rice, approximately 80,000 tons per year, at such high costs.

Another technocrat whom political analysts are watching in this election is independent candidate, Paolo Gomes. Gomes is a Harvard-educated, former World Bank executive.

Gomes told voters that without stability the country will not be able to attract investment. Wealth, he says, will come with stability. He says they need jobs for young people. He says many young people finish their studies or training but there are no jobs so they remain dependent on their parents. He says this is "unacceptable."

Guinea-Bissau is one of Africa's smallest, yet most unstable, countries. There have been repeated coups, mutinies and political assassinations since independence 40 years ago. No elected president has ever finished his mandate.

Analysts warn that the military remains a destabilizing force.

Lassana Cassama reported from Bissau.

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