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Guinea-Bissau Voters May Have 2nd Chance at Parliamentary Elections - 2004-03-29

Voters in Guinea-Bissau may have another chance to go to the polls to select members of a new parliament, after a series of problems at polling stations on Sunday and Monday.

Officials say more than 80 percent of eligible voters cast their ballots as scheduled on Sunday. But some voting centers did not open and others opened late because ballots and other materials had not arrived.

The National Election Commission extended the deadline for voting until Monday, but again some polling centers were without the proper material.

The president of the national commission, Higino Cardoso, said it is to meet to discuss the situation and determine whether polling should be opened again on Tuesday. Mr. Cardoso said this is a very important election for Guinea-Bissau. He blamed financial problems for the difficulties in organizing the election.

Mr. Cardoso also reports that citizens remained calm at the polling stations where there were problems, although, in his words, they expressed their eagerness to vote. The Reuters news agency reports that at one location, frustrated voters burned tires and threw bottles, but there were no reports of serious trouble.

These elections are being viewed as the key to economic recovery for the impoverished West African nation, which has suffered from increased poverty levels since a civil war ended there six years ago.

Last month, interim President Henrique Rosa announced an unexplained deficit of nearly $6 million in the accounts of former President Kumba Yala, who was removed from office in a bloodless military coup last September.

Mr. Yala had dissolved the national parliament more than a year and a half ago, and these elections are a first step in the return to constitutional rule. The interim government released Mr. Yala from house arrest early this month and he voted on Sunday. But he has been barred from running for office for five years.

Representatives from international organizations are helping to monitor the election, to ensure it is free and fair. There are 12 political parties and three coalitions competing for 102 seats in the new National Assembly.