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Presidential Election in Guinea-Bissau Seen as Test of Democracy

People wait in a queue to vote during Guinea-Bissau elections in Bissau
Polls opened peacefully in Guinea-Bissau, Sunday, after weeks of intense campaigning. Election observers reported no problems, and military personnel were asked to leave the polling places after voting.

Most polling stations opened on time at 7:30 in the morning, with long lines of voters already waiting to cast their votes in the capital, Bissau.

People were reassured by a communiqué read over national radio Sunday morning by the head of the armed forces, asking the military to return to their barracks after having done their duty and voted.

The small country has had a turbulent political history of coups and attempted coups, and people feared possible trouble during voting. The presidential election is seen as a chance to restore full democracy to the small country, which has been governed by a transitional government since the end of 2003, when the military handed power to a civilian administration.

Many voters hope that this election will restore stability and increase development in Guinea-Bissau, which is one of the world's poorest countries. Waiting in line and cradling her sick baby, a woman who does not wish to be named, said that she wanted to salaries of civil servants to be paid.

The woman says she hopes the next president will take Guinea-Bissau out of its current crisis and poverty.

At another polling station, Gjarnga Dandne, said he was very happy with the way the elections were going.

Mr. Dandne said there have been no reported problems in the election, in which 13 candidates are competing. Mr. Dandne supports Malam Bacai Sanha, considered one of three front-runners and a veteran political leader. Mr. Dandne said he believes Mr. Sanha is the most charismatic candidate and will unite the country.

The two other candidates expected to garner the most votes are Kumba Yalla a former head of state who was toppled in a bloodless coup in 2003, and another former president and military strongman, Joao Bernardo Nino Vieira, who ruled Guinea-Bissau for almost 19 years.

To be declared president, a candidate needs to win more than 50 percent of the total number of votes cast. The election is being monitored by about 200 observers from the United States, the European Union and West Africa.