UNIVERSITY OF PENNSYLVANIA - AFRICAN STUDIES CENTER
GUINEA-BISSAU: IRIN Focus on Elections
[The opinions expressed in this report do not necessarily reflect those of the United Nations]
BISSAU, 24 November (IRIN) - Few dispute the fact that the main issues now in Guinea-Bissau include lasting peace and stability, observers say, but there is less consensus on the identity of the person the 500,000 voters will choose on Sunday to steer their nation on a peaceful, stable course.
Representatives of political parties said they had registered no significant incidents of violence during the election campaign and that they hoped things would remain that way after the polls. "Whichever party wins," the leader of the Frente da Liberacao da Guine (FLING), Catengul Mendy, told IRIN, "stability is a point on which there should be a consensus."
Guinea-Bissau and its 1.2 million people have had to live with instability for much of its recent past. A liberation war started in 1963 ended in independence in 1974. Six years later, in 1980, President Luis Cabral was overthrown by Joao Bernardo Vieira, who survived two alleged coup attempts before the bulk of the armed forces, grouped under the self-styled Military Junta, rose up against him on 7 June 1998.
The uprising was sparked when Vieira dismissed Brigadier General Ansumane Mane on 6 June 1998, allegedly for not preventing the smuggling of weapons to separatist guerrillas in Casamance, southern Senegal. It caused the displacement of some 350,000 people, some of whom returned to the capital in September and October, only to be displaced by fresh clashes between the Military Junta and Vieira loyalists supported by troops sent in by Senegal and Guinea at the then president's request.
A third outbreak of fighting occurred for four days in January 1999, around two months after Vieira's government and the Military Junta signed an agreement in Abuja. The November 1998 Abuja Agreement provided for a co-government between Vieira and his foes, but a dispute over the disarming of the presidential guard led to his overthrow on 6-7 May by the Military Junta.
Sunday's elections were also among the provisions of the Abuja Agreement, which stated that the Junta should cease to exist after the polls. However, there has been some uncertainty in recent days over its future role in state affairs.
The uncertainty was fuelled by the appearance last week of the Magna Carta, an unsigned document purportedly issued by the Military Junta, which later disassociated itself from it.
The Magna Carta, which was published by the local media, was reportedly meant to be signed by the country's political parties. It stated that the Junta was to remain in existence for two five-year presidential terms and it included provisions requiring the president to consult the Junta on key issues such as the appointment of senior state officials.
Members of civil society saw the document, which was rejected by the country's political parties, as anything but reassuring.
"At first the Military Junta had a very correct position: 'We don't want power, we are doing what needs to be done and once the elections are finished we are going back to barracks'," an NGO source told IRIN. "But now some elements of the Junta seem to want power."
While the Magna Carta has reportedly been withdrawn, negotiations on the future of the Junta continued this week. Sources told IRIN political party leaders are scheduled to meet with the Junta on Saturday, the eve of the election, which will see 12 candidates vying for the post of president.
Humanitarian officials and members of civil society told IRIN they did not expect any of the candidates would win an absolute majority in Guinea-Bissau's second multiparty elections since independence from Portugal in 1974/5.
The frontrunners, they say, include Kumba Yala of the Partido da Renovacao Social (PRS) who lost the first multiparty elections in 1994 to Vieira, who was president at the time. The results of that vote were disputed by Yala's supporters. Another main contender is Interim President Malam Bacai Sanha, head of the transitional government that has ruled the country since Vieira was ousted on 7 May by the Military Junta. Sanha comes from the Partido Africano da Independencia da Guine e Cabo Verde (PAIGC) which ruled the country since independence.
Others are independents Faustino Imbali and Fernando Gomes, head of the Liga de Direitos Humanos da Guine-Bissau until he joined the political fray, and - according to 'O Diario de Guine-Bissau' - Salvador Tchongo, a dissident from one of the main parties, Resistencia da Guine-Bissau (RGB).
Should there be no clear winner, the two best placed candidates will go on to a second round, which should be held in January.
The legislatives, observers say, are likely to be dominated by RGB and Uniao para a Mudanca (UM), which have not fielded presidential candidates, and the PAIGC.
Eleven other parties are vying for the 102 seats in parliament - 100 to be elected in Guinea-Bissau and two by overseas voters
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Editor: Dr. Ali B. Ali-Dinar, Ph.D
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