Calm as Guinea Bissau awaits poll results

The essentials: Bissau-Guineans voted on Sunday in a peaceful presidential ballot. The country remains calm for election results on November 28th. The forerunners are incumbent President Jose Mario Vaz, who seeks a second 5-year term and Domingos Simoes Pereira.

The context: Guinea Bissau has endured political upheaval for the past 5 years. Power struggles within the ruling African Party for the Independence of Guinea and Cape Verde have centred the disbursement of foreign aid in the country and led to the expulsion of President Mario Vaz, the country’s first democratically elected president. Tension has also built around the country’s role as a drug-trafficking hub from Latin America to Europe.

President Vaz, now running as an independent, faces stiff competition from 12 other contestants, two of whom he fired as prime ministers. His supporters are mostly cashew nut farmers - nut is the country’s main export and Vaz remains popular for raising nut prices. But young Bissau-Guineans who make up two-thirds of the population are not likely to vote for him. His tenure, which officially ended on June 23rd, has been marred by allegations of corruption and instability, including the sacking of high-level officials like then-Prime Minister Domingos Simoes Pereira who is now the main contender.

Whatever the outcome, these elections are significant for the country of less than 2 million that has been wracked by 4 successful, and many more attempted coups since it declared independence from Portugal in 1974. President Vas is the first-ever president to successfully complete his tenure since a multi-party system was introduced in 1994.

The good: The calm with which the elections have held so far is commendable. Not because African countries are incapable of holding non-violent elections, but because there were pre-election protests that turned violent with at least one person dead. There are reports of scuffles in some parts, but the polls have been largely peaceful.

It should be noted that ECOWAS stepped up to monitor the elections. Some 6,500 security forces plus a backup of forces from Togo all worked together to create a safe space for some 760,000 voters.

The bad: Whoever inherits the presidency will have to deal with the increasingly alarming cases of drug trafficking through Guinea Bissau. An alarming amount of drugs were discovered in September, a case made even more interesting because politicians were implicated in it, proving that authorities may already be too late to catch up.

The future: Bissau-Guineans look forward to a new tenure free of political tensions. If there is no clear winner announced by the Comissão Nacional de Eleições on November 28th, runoff elections will hold on December 29th. Vaz promised to respect the results, but his team is already accusing the electoral body of fraud.