BISSAU, Guinea-Bissau – Guinea-Bissau’s former finance minister Jose Mario Vaz scored a resounding victory Tuesday, May 20,in a presidential election seen as a key test of stability in the coup-prone country.
The candidate of the west African nation’s dominant party won an overwhelming 62% of the vote against independent rival Nuno Gomes Nabiam with 38%, the election commission said.
Vaz told journalists he was “very happy, and a bit surprised by the enthusiasm shown for him.”
However, his rival Nabiam said that the announced poll results “did not correspond to those that my campaign manager gave me.”
He is expected to reveal on Wednesday whether or not he will recognise the official figures.
If the result is confirmed by the supreme court, the 57-year-old Vaz will be named the first elected leader since the army mutinied in 2012, plunging into chaos a state already in the grip of powerful cocaine cartels and beset by political violence.
The army issued a statement late Tuesday that “there was no alarming situation” and that “the armed forces would remain under the political power and respect the verdict of the voters.”
Jose Ramos-Horta, the head of the country’s United Nations mission, called on the international community to offer emergency financial support, in particular to pay late public sector wages.
He warned that “the restoration of the constitutional order could collapse very quickly”, with “more disastrous consequences than the country has ever seen”, if cash wasn’t forthcoming.
“The end of the transition marks a new stage which demands our constant commitment to help Bissau-Guineans work on the country’s serious political, social and economic problems,” he told a meeting of the Security Council.
Vaz, of the African Party for the Independence of Guinea-Bissau and Cape Verde (PAIGC), won the first round on April 13 but failed to get an outright majority, pitting him against Nabiam in a head-to-head second round on Sunday.
Already mired in poverty, the fragile nation of 1.6 million has been stagnating for two years under the rule of an army-backed transitional government, with the economy anaemic and endemic corruption fuelled by rampant drug trafficking.
The election was seen as a key test of its progress after the 2012 coup. But turnout in the run-off, at 78 percent of an electorate of 800,000 people, was some way short of the 89 percent participation rate in the first round.
A large crowd of activists converged on the PAIGC headquarters in downtown Bissau waving banners and wearing t-shirts bearing Vaz’s image amid a chorus of honking horns.
Guinea-Bissau’s army was out in force, patrolling the streets alongside troops from a multi-national force sent by the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS).
Latin American drug lords
The two candidates have 48 hours to lay complaints before the supreme court before it confirms the result.
Vaz’s team and the Guinea-Bissau Human Rights League complained on election day of his supporters being attacked in Bissau and the central town of Bafata, around 150 kilometres (90 miles) away.
Supporters of 51-year-old Nabiam had also reported irregularities, making vague references to an attempt at vote-buying on the eve of the run-off.
ECOWAS called on the candidates, both of whom vowed to respect the outcome ahead of Sunday, to raise any objections “legally and peacefully”.
The former Portuguese colony is the only west African nation to have achieved independence through military force and, since 1974, the army and state have been in constant, often deadly, competition.
Its people have suffered intermittent unrest since liberation, as well as a series of military coups attributed largely to the unprecedented bloating of the army after the war.
This has led to chronic instability and a dysfunctional state which, with its porous coastline and abundant islands, provided fertile ground for Latin American drug lords looking for a hub from which to ship their cocaine to Europe.
No elected president has ever finished his term in office in Guinea-Bissau.
The United States has charged 2012 coup leader Antonio Indjai with drug trafficking and seeking to sell arms to Colombian FARC rebels, although he has not been extradited and remains in Bissau.
The election was the first since Indjai agreed in May 2012 to hand power to a civilian transitional regime headed by President Manuel Serifo Nhamadjo.
Vaz, a father of three, has vowed to pursue “ongoing dialogue” with the military if elected. – Rappler.com