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Tense Guinea-Bissau Awaits Election Results

Boys watch electoral officials count votes through a window in Guinea's capital Bissau, March 18, 2012.
Boys watch electoral officials count votes through a window in Guinea's capital Bissau, March 18, 2012.
Anne Look

Vote-counting is under way in Guinea-Bissau following Sunday's presidential poll. The late-night assassination of a key military figure cast a shadow over an otherwise calm day of voting, and highlights the risk of further instability in the coup-prone West Africa country.

Guinea-Bissau's former military intelligence chief, Colonel Samba Diallo, was shot dead at a bar in the capital Sunday night following the country's presidential election.  

Sources in Bissau told VOA that the assailants appeared to be renegade soldiers, but the army says it has no information on the incident.

Military coups, army mutinies and assassinations are commonplace in Guinea-Bissau.

Guinea-Bissau Elections

  • Guinea-Bissau wins independence from Portugal in 1974.
  • Luis Cabral becomes president in 1974 and is ousted in a 1980 coup led by armed forces chief Joao Bernardo Vieira.
  • Vieira clings to power despite alleged coup attempts and is elected president in 1994 multi-party polls.
  • Guinea-Bissau plunges into a bloody civil war in 1998 after an army uprising.
  • Military junta ousts Vieira in 1999; opposition leader Kumba Yala is elected president in 2000.
  • President Yala is ousted in bloody military coup in 2003; Businessman Henrique Rosa is sworn in as president.
  • Joao Bernardo Vieira wins 2005 presidential vote and is killed by soldiers in the presidential palace in 2009.
  • Malam Bacai Sanha is elected president and while hospitalized in 2011 a military struggle and attempted coup take place.
  • President Sanha dies in January 2012 after a long illness; National Assembly Speaker Raimundo Pereira becomes acting president.

Political and military leaders have long wrestled for dominance of the tiny coastal nation and, according to analysts, profit from the thousands of kilograms of cocaine trafficked through its Atlantic coastline each week.

Meanwhile, two-thirds of its inhabitants live in poverty. Corruption runs rampant. No elected president has finished his mandate since 1994.

Sunday's murder was a troubling sign, following an election many hoped would mark a fresh start.

Voter Senguda Fonseca says the women of this country are tired. She says we cannot afford to send our children to school. She says our relatives die in misery. She says they need someone who can guide Guinea-Bissau forward.

In April 2010, Colonel Diallo was arrested by mutinous soldiers and detained for nine months. Then-prime minister Carlos Gomes Junior was also briefly detained. He is now a presidential frontrunner pledging to reform the economy and end drug-trafficking.

Casting his ballot at an open-air polling station in Bissau Sunday, Gomes said he was feeling calm and confident that the elections would go smoothly. He said his priority will be to serve the country.

Still, Gomes had ties to Colonel Diallo. Sources in Bissau worry that Sunday's killing could be a warning for the candidate.

Vincent Foucher, a Guinea-Bissau analyst for the International Crisis Group, says there have been rumors that a victory by Gomes would spark unrest or a military takeover. However, he says that Colonel Diallo had enemies, and it is still unclear what, if any, connection his murder had with the election.

Guinea-Bissau is voting to replace former president Malam Bacai Sanha, who died in January following a prolonged illness. Sanha had been elected only two years earlier after his predecessor, long-time president Joao Vieira, was assassinated by renegade solders seeking revenge for the killing of the chief of the armed forces just hours earlier.

Nine candidates are running for the presidency. Gomes' key challenger is former president Kumba Yala, who was overthrown by a coup in 2003. He has strong ties to the military and placed second in the 2009 poll.

Results are expected within one week. If no candidate wins a clear majority, the vote will go to a second round run-off next month.

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