Guinea-Bissau votes for new leader
19 May 2014, 17:30
Bissau - Guinea-Bissau voted on Sunday in a presidential election seen as a key test for the fragile state but marred by reports of violent intimidation tactics against supporters of the frontrunner.
Already mired in poverty, the west African nation has been stagnating since 2012 under the rule of an army-backed transitional government, with the economy anaemic and corruption fuelled by rampant drug trafficking.
Almost 800 000 voters had a choice between former finance minister Jose Mario Vaz, who won the first round on 13 April but failed to get an outright majority, and runner-up Nuno Gomes Nabiam, an independent.
Vaz told reporters as he arrived at a Bissau polling station with his wife Celestina that party colleagues had been attacked by "armed men" trying to influence the outcome.
"Some of my party's leaders have been intimidated by armed men who attacked them or their homes. That is unacceptable," said Vaz, who was flanked by bodyguards.
His African Party for the Independence of Guinea-Bissau and Cape Verde and the Guinea-Bissau Human Rights League later issued separate statements saying three Vaz supporters had been attacked on Saturday in Bissau while another 15 had been targeted in the central town of Bafata, around 150km away.
"We are in a democracy. It is inexcusable that people use force to prevent other citizens exercising their civic duty," Vaz said.
The all-powerful army, long accused of involvement with drug cartels, stopped the 2012 election with a coup between rounds, and analysts had described its influence this time as "the big unknown".
But there had been no reports of disturbances related to the army by the time polling stations closed at 18:00.
At least 3 000 voting centres had opened across the country 11 hours earlier, with healthy crowds building up outside those visited by AFP reporters in Bissau.
But election commission vice-president Alleluia Catia Lopes told reporters that by the middle of the afternoon turnout looked some distance short of the first round rate of almost 90 percent.
"As I speak to you, 60 to 65 percent of those registered have voted. We hope that, by the end of voting, the rate may increase a little," he said.
"We are in the middle of the marketing year. Most voters are farmers, they went to the field rather than the ballot box."
Vaz has vowed to pursue "ongoing dialogue" with the military if he is named the new president, with election results expected within five days.
With a 40.9% share of the first-round vote against Nabiam's 24.8%, the 57-year-old father-of-three is the establishment candidate.
Nabiam, an engineer, has campaigned as the "unifying" choice, capable of bringing stability to his country.
"I am confident that victory will be on my side, because I have travelled across the country and I think my message was well received," he told reporters as he cast his ballot in the capital.
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 1.6 million 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.
An elected president has yet to finish 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 will be the first since Indjai agreed in May 2012 to hand power to a civilian transitional regime headed by President Manuel Serifo Nhamadjo.
Around 4 000 troops were ensuring security while 245 observers from various countries were deployed to polling stations.
A mostly orderly start to the election in Bissau appeared to have been replicated elsewhere in the country, according to the United Nations and residents contacted by AFP.