Guinea Bissau Vote First Since Coup in Bid For Economic Rebound

Guinea Bissau voters will cast ballots today in presidential and legislative elections in a bid to help restore democracy two years after a coup that thwarted a previous poll and triggered an economic slide in the former Portuguese colony.

As many as 775,500 voters out of a population of 1.6 million will cast ballots in an election that was delayed twice, according to the United Nations Integrated Peace-Building Office in Guinea Bissau. There are 13 presidential candidates, while 15 parties are vying for 102 seats in parliament.

Former Finance Minister Jose Mario Vaz is considered the frontrunner in the presidential vote, according to Bjorn Van Wees, Africa analyst at the London-based Economist Intelligence Unit. Vaz is the candidate for Partido Africano da Independencia da Guine e Cabo Verde, or PAIGC, which fought a guerrilla war against the Portuguese and took power at independence in 1974.

Even if he loses, “the PAIGC is still likely to control parliament and hold the prime minister post,” Van Wees said in an e-mailed response to questions.

Donors including the European Union and the International Monetary Fund withdrew support from Guinea Bissau in response to the 2012 coup, which occurred days before the second and final round of presidential elections. Among the main candidates in that vote was ex-president Koumba Yala of the Party for Social Renewal, or PRS, who died of a heart attack last week.

Drug Trafficking

The PRS, PAIGC’S main rival, has nominated Abel Incada, while the former head of the Civil Aviation Authority, Nuno Gomes Nabiam, is running as an independent.

Guinea Bissau has had three coups and the assassination of President Joao Bernardo Vieira in 2009. Since 1994, no elected president has finished his mandate.

Interim leader Manuel Serifo Nhamadjo, who was appointed by the military following the coup, isn’t eligible to run in the vote. The UN Security Council warned in December it will consider sanctions on leaders who try to thwart the elections. Political instability allowed traffickers to ship drugs through the nation for deliveries to Europe, according to the UN.

The economy, which depends on cashew nut exports and donor funding, probably expanded 0.3 percent last year after contracting 1.5 percent in 2012, according to the IMF.

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