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Guinea-Bissau Candidate Shuns Presidential Runoff

Guinea-Bissau presidential candidate Kumba Yala poses in his residence, Bissau, March 17, 2012.

One of the two finalists in Guinea-Bissau's presidential poll says he will not participate in a runoff election, citing alleged fraud in the first round.

While it remains to be seen whether the fraud allegations will stand up, it is the latest in a string of events since the March 18 election shaking up what is already a fragile electoral process.

Provisional results of Sunday's presidential election show former president Kumba Yala taking second place to former Prime Minister Carlos Gomes Junior. A run-off is set for April 22, but Yala now says he will not take part.

"We do not recognize the results of this fraudulent election," Yala said to reporters Thursday. "We are democratic and we demand transparent polls, [and] there is ample evidence of fraud."

While national and international observers have said the poll was free and fair, four other opposition candidates have joined Yala in contesting the results.

Vincent Foucher, West Africa senior analyst with the International Crisis Group, said although Yala seems intensely defiant in his rejection, so are other opposition candidates.

"All significant opposition figures are in this together and have rejected the results. Definitely they are rocking the political boat," said Foucher. "The question is, are they sure they have sufficient grounds to do that and to take this responsibility. If they are, it’s only fair that they protest against an election which they don’t regard as correct. But are they sure, really?"

Yala and other opposition leaders said they are submitting fraud evidence to the national electoral commission and possibly the country’s highest court.

In a March 22 statement, the United States said: “We do note with concern the reported allegations of fraud, and urge the National Elections Commission and judicial authorities to thoroughly examine and address any complaints in a fair, transparent and judicious manner.”

Yala’s move to bow out of the second round comes as military official Jose Zamora Induta, an ally of first-round winner Gomes, has taken refuge in the European Union compound in the capital, Bissau. Induta went to the compound after another general, Samba Diallo, was murdered the night of the initial poll.

Political and military leaders have long wrestled for influence in the small West African country, where most people live in poverty while corrupt leaders profit from a rampant illegal drug trade.

According to Foucher, Diallo’s death and Induta’s fleeing could reveal something about Gomes’s power, but also signal trouble ahead.

“It might well indicate that indeed people associated with prime minister Carlos Gomes Jr. don’t feel so safe, which means that his supposed dominance is actually not so strong as people once believed," he said. "That people within the army have an agenda and some people within the army are ready to do things - including use violence - in the current situation, which is a worrisome sign."

A worrisome sign in a country where military coups and political assassinations are commonplace.

Since becoming independent from Portugal in 1974, Guinea-Bissau has struggled through a dictatorship, three coups and the 2009 assassination of President Joao Bernardo Vieira.

The current election is to replace Vieira's successor, Malam Bacai Sanha, who died in January after a long illness.

Joao Bernardo Vieira Joao Bernardo Vieira