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Guinea-Bissau Election Campaign Enters Final Days


Presidential candidates in Guinea-Bissau are campaigning hard across the country ahead of Sunday's vote. Eleven candidates are running to succeed long-time President Joao Bernardo Vieira, who was killed in March.

Supporters of Guinea-Bissau's ruling-party candidate, Malam Bacai Sanha, rally outside the capital, promising a big turnout in a district his chief rival, opposition candidate Kumba Yala, won nine years ago.

In a country with fewer than two million people, campaigning is often at close quarters. Rival posters hang from the same apartment building and party offices stand across the street from each other, competing to see who can play their campaign songs the loudest.

Down the road from the Sanha rally, supporters of independent candidate Henrique Rosa say he is the only one who is looking out for the country's poor. Sanha supporters drive by on the back of an open truck, pointing to their wrists in reference to his slogan "Time for Change."

It is a relatively benign bit of electoral taunting that is met with waves from Rosa supporters in a country that has seen a series of violent changes of power since independence in 1974.

Who will replace Vieira?

Sunday's vote is a contest to succeed long-time President Joao Bernardo Vieira, who was killed by mutinous soldiers in March hours after his chief political rival died in a bomb blast.

Earlier this month, presidential candidate Baciro Dabo was killed by state security forces, who accused him of resisting arrest for plotting a coup. Dabo's family say he was shot in his bed.

Military intervention in politics stems largely from the fight against Portuguese colonialism. Many political analysts in the region say the military considers that liberation struggle more legitimate than the power civilian politicians gain through elections.

Security sector reform tops recommendations by the International Contact Group on Guinea-Bissau - which includes members of the Economic Community of West African States, the United Nations, and the Community of Portuguese-Speaking Countries.

"There is a link between political actors who are manipulating the military," said Vladimir Monteiro, the United Nations information officer in Bissau. "Some militaries take advantage of their force and try to obtain something in exchange. But what we see is Guinea-Bissau is losing due to this kind of link, this combination between both sides."

Military interference?

Monteiro says politicians should stay out of the barracks and the military should be responsible only for protecting Guinea-Bissau's national sovereignty and serving in regional peacekeeping forces.

He says Sunday's vote is a chance to restore constitutional order and begin the process of reconciling historically rival factions.

"We think that it will be a step and a moment to bring all the actors - political actors, military actors, and even civil society to discuss. Because we are talking about reconciliation," Monteiro said. "And this reconciliation process has not started yet. And this election, maybe it will help."

Hope for peaceful future

Monteiro says reforming the security force is as much about establishing accountability for past violence as it is about setting the stage for a more peaceful future.

"In Guinea-Bissau we have had a lot of killings," Monteiro noted. "And it is not normal in a democratic state when you want to respect rule of law and human rights [that] a group comes and kills the president and nobody is accountable. And this is very important."

The regional ECOWAS alliance wants an independent investigation into this year's political violence. Two commissions of inquiry established in Bissau have made little progress. Monteiro says it is up to Guinea-Bissau to take the necessary steps to bring to justice those responsible for the killings.

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