Voters in Guinea-Bissau Choosing New Leader

Voters in Guinea-Bissau are choosing a new leader. Sunday's election is meant to replace President Joao Bernardo Vieira, who was killed by mutinous troops five months ago.

Voters in Guinea-Bissau are choosing between two men who have both led the country before.

Ruling-party candidate Malam Bacai Sanha is a former interim president and chair of the national assembly who won last month's first round of voting with nearly 40 percent of ballots cast.  He is expected to gain the support of most of those who voted for an independent candidate who finished third.

Opposition candidate Kumba Yala beat Sanha in the presidential run-off in 2000. But he may have difficulty building on the 29 percent of the vote he won last month because his presidency is best remembered for financial mismanagement and the arrest of political opponents.

Though Mr. Yala is from the country's ethnic majority, which has long controlled the military, he was toppled in a 2003 coup before unilaterally declaring himself president and temporarily seizing the presidential palace in 2005.

Guinea-Bissau has a long history of army mutinies and coups.  President Vieira was killed in March within hours of his chief political rival dying in a bomb blast.

One of the opposition candidates in the first round of voting was killed by military police who said he was resisting arrest on suspicion of plotting a coup. His family says he was shot in his bed at four in the morning.

In an open letter to Mr. Sanha and Mr. Yala before Sunday's vote, the Canadian International Institute of Applied Negotiation and the International Crisis Group called on the losing candidate to "refrain from taking any form of violent actions that could further undermine the fragile stability in the country."

The groups urged the winner to be magnanimous as he will face immense challenges as the new president "that should transcend partisan politics."

Both candidates wrapped up their campaigns calling for an end to political assassinations.

Regional diplomats say the challenge for the new president will be forcing Bissau's military to respect civilian leadership and keep out of politics.   

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