Bringing Stability to Guinea-BissauApril 11, 2014 in Guinea-Bissau
Voters in the West African nation are set to go to the polls on 13 April in what is being seen as a milestone in a country that over the past three decades has suffered five coups.
The upcoming presidential and parliamentary elections are the first to be held since the 2012 coup that overthrew interim President Raimundo Pereira. Incumbent President Manuel Serifo Nhamadjo, who had led the country’s transitional government since 2012, will not be standing at this Sunday’s elections, pledging to hand over power when a new head of state has been inaugurated.
Will the Elections be Credible?
One of the main reasons behind why Guinea-Bissau has suffered a number of coups is the overarching influence that the military has in political. International pressure and the conduct of the military will therefore be key. The United Nations has already indicated that the country’s return to stability will depend in part on credible elections. The UN has vowed to impose “targeted sanctions” against those who undermine the country’s efforts to restore constitutional order. It has also specifically warned military leaders against “meddling in the electoral process, or ignoring the outcome.” In response, the military has promised “zero” tolerance for fraud.
Since 1980, the five coups have taken place resulted in chronic instability and poverty for the country’s 1.6 million people. The next president will therefore need to remove the army from politics in order to prevent more coups and to enhance political stability. The new president will also need to bolster the fight against drug trafficking, as the country is seen as a transit point in the smuggling of South American cocaine into Europe. According to the United Kingdom’s All-Parliamentary Group for Guinea-Bissau, the country “is widely acknowledged to be one of the world’s international drug trafficking hubs” and is “one of the poorest nations on earth.”
The Main Parties
Sunday’s elections will inevitably be a race between the PAIGC (African Party for the Independence of Guinea-Bissau and Cape Verde) and the PRS (Party for Social Renewal).
The PAIGC is the former liberation movement that fought a guerilla war against Portuguese colonial rule for over a decade and took power on independence in 1974.
The PRS has mostly been in opposition. Kumba Yala, the only president it has produced so far, was overthrown in a coup in 2003 and died earlier this month, just days before the elections. The party will be hoping for a strong turnout amongst the Balanta ethnic group, which is its main support base.
The Main Presidential Candidates
Representing the PAIGC is Jose Mario Vaz, a former finance minister credited with implementing tough economic reforms. His efforts led to the Paris Club of lenders cancelling a US $1 billion debt and France cancelling a US $8 million euro debt.
Abel Incada, who is representing the PRS, is a businessman who previously served as first deputy chairman of the Chamber of Commerce.
Another candidate is Nazare de Pina Vieira, the widow of former President Joao Bernardo Vieira, who is standing an as independent. She has been living in Paris since her husband’s assassination in March 2009.
Who will Monitor the Elections?
Countries from the regional body, ECOWAS, agreed in February 2014 to deploy 750 troops in order to ensure security during the polls. There will also be international observers from the United Kingdom, European Union, the African Union, ECOWAS, Nigeria and East Timor.
In February, a presidential decree indicated that more than 776,000 people had registered to vote, representing 95% of eligible voters.
What is the electoral System?
In Guinea-Bissau, the president is elected by an absolute majority, with a second round of voting occurring if it is required. The presidential term is five years.
The 102 members of parliament are elected from 27 multi-member constituencies to serve four-year terms.