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Electoral Officials Distributing Ballots for Guinea Bissau Vote

Electoral officials in Guinea Bissau are distributing voting materials ahead of Sunday's presidential election. Eleven candidates are running to succeed long-time President Joao Bernardo Vieira who was killed in March.

Campaign workers load boxes of paper ballots onto a truck for transport to polling stations near the border with Senegal. Each shipment contains a white cardboard stand to give voters privacy and a clear plastic ballot box with numbered plastic ties to seal it once polls close.

It is the earliest that voting materials have been distributed in Guinea Bissau. National Electoral Commission President Desejado Lima Da Costa says it is one of several changes meant to ensure a free and fair vote.

Da Costa says fraud usually occurs when voting materials arrive at polling stations late. This time he says electoral officials are better prepared and all materials will be in place before the first voters arrive Sunday morning.

Da Costa says Guinea Bissau can be an example for the sub-region by holding a vote that is free, transparent, and without violence.

This country has been rocked by a series of army mutinies and coups since independence from Portugal in 1974. That instability has been exploited by Latin American drug gangs using airstrips along the coast to smuggle cocaine to Europe.

Sunday's vote is a contest to succeed President Vieria, who was killed in March hours after his chief political rival, Army Chief of Staff General Batista Tagme Na Waie, died in a bomb blast.

Earlier this month, former interior minister and presidential candidate Baciro Dabo was killed by state security forces who say he resisted arrest as an alleged coup plotter. Dabo's family says he was shot in his bed.

Campaigning was briefly suspended following the killing of Dabo and former defense minister Helder Proenca. But after meeting with government officials and political leaders, Acting President Raimundo Pereira decided that Sunday's vote would go ahead as planned.

At the Salvador Allende Secondary School, poll workers are being trained in securing ballot boxes and explaining the electoral process to voters who are illiterate.

Da Costa says the government has launched an extensive civil education campaign to make sure people understand the significance of this vote.

Da Costa says this is a decisive election that could relaunch Guinea Bissau's economy. While he says no vote can resolve all of the problems confronting the country, it is an important part of establishing stability.

Nearly 600,000 people are registered to vote out of a population of 1.6 million. Unlike previous elections, Da Costa says the electoral commission will announce provisional results within five days instead of ten in hopes of reducing tensions among supporters awaiting the outcome.

While 11 candidates are running to succeed President Vieria, it is primarily a race between the ruling party candidate - former interim president Malam Bacai Sanha - and the main opposition Social Renewal Party candidate - former president Kumba Yala. Their strongest challenger is businessman and former interim president Henrique Rosa, who is running as an independent candidate.