Election officials start counting votes at a polling station in the Bairro Militar area of the capital Bissau, in Guinea-Bissau, Nov. 24, 2019.
Election officials start counting votes at a polling station in the Bairro Militar area of the capital Bissau, in Guinea-Bissau, Nov. 24, 2019.

Vote counting has started in Guinea-Bissau's presidential election -- a country that has seen hardly any political stability since independence from Portugal 45 years ago.

President Jose Mario Vaz is looking for a second five-year term. He is the only president since independence to survive a full term without a coup or assassination.

His chief competitor is former Prime Minister Domingos Simoes Pereira. Both candidates promise to respect the results. Ten other candidates also ran.
 
Pereira was one of six prime ministers Vaz fired during his presidency. He fired Prime Minister Aristides Gomes in late October and named a new head of government. But Gomes refused to step down. The regional bloc ECOWAS intervened to prevent the country from exploding into violence.

Whoever becomes the country's next president will face numerous challenges in one of the world's poorest countries, including poverty, corruption, drug trafficking, and badly needed improvements in health care and education.

If no candidate receives more than 50% of the vote, the top two finishers will meet in a runoff next month.