Candidates in Guinea-Bissau wrap-up campaigning Friday in the nation's
presidential election. Eleven candidates are running to succeed long-time president Joao
Bernardo Vieria, who was killed by mutinous soldiers in March.
spending much of the last month campaigning in Guinea-Bissau's
countryside, candidates hold closing rallies in the capital Friday.
Saturday is an official "Day of Reflection" before Sunday's ballot,
where 600,000 voters are registered to choose a new president.
is a chance to restore constitutional order following President
Vieria's death, hours after his chief political rival died in a bomb
blast. Given the country's history of army mutinies and coups,
neighboring states and the international community have invested
heavily in making sure this vote succeeds.
"There is a
critical need to entrench political and economic stability in
Guinea-Bissau," said Nigerian President Umaru Yar'Adua.
Yar'Adua leads the Economic Community of West African States. He told
regional leaders meeting in Abuja this week that Sunday's vote is a
chance for Guinea-Bissau to join regional states committed to democracy.
is my hope that collectively we will do all within our powers to
consolidate democracy in West Africa such as conflicts in whatever form
will be mitigated, if not completely eliminated, in our region," he
Franco Nulli represents the European Union in Bissau.
says it is clear that Guinea-Bissau has undergone a very difficult
period of instability and recurrent troubles over the last few years.
He says it is also clear that the feeling at the international and
national level is one of powerlessness and reluctance to believe that
there will be a different situation here in the future.
says he believes a different future is possible if the international
community helps. The EU has spent more than $3 million to
help finance this vote.
Of course, Guinea-Bissau continues to
experience a very fragile situation, Nulli says, a very abnormal
situation. So a lot of work is needed to stop the situation from
Nulli says structural reforms essential
to Guinea-Bissau's future include changes to the civil service,
improvements in the judicial system, stronger controls over public
finances, and the complete reform of security forces.
International Contact Group on Guinea Bissau - which includes ECOWAS,
the United Nations, and the Community of Portuguese-Speaking Countries
- wants a military pension fund to encourage those who have reached
retirement age to leave the army.
The group wants the
rehabilitation of military barracks and a census of security forces so
the new government can both demobilize current soldiers and recruit new
cadets to better balance an army long dominated by the ethnic majority.
Nulli, who represents the European Union in Bissau, says it is
encouraging that soldiers did not seize power following the president's
death, but there must still be far greater separation between military
and political authorities.
Nulli says that this reform, as with
any reform, is difficult because it is not just about building
something new. It is about changing mentalities. And that is much more
Nulli says he hopes that following Sunday's vote
and the restoration of constitutional order, the country can present
international partners with a concrete plan for reform and development.
President Yar'Adua says he plans to convene an international donor
roundtable after the vote. ECOWAS not only paid the outstanding
balance for electoral security, President Yar'Adua says the alliance
also paid three-months back salary for the military.