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27.11.2019 Africa

Two ex-PMs in G. Bissau presidential run-off as incumbent crashes out

By Allen Yero EMBALO
Sunday's polling was mainly peaceful despite fears of violence.  By JOHN WESSELS (AFP/File)
NOV 27, 2019 AFRICA
Sunday's polling was mainly peaceful despite fears of violence. By JOHN WESSELS (AFP/File)

Two former Guinea-Bissau prime ministers headed into a runoff in the West African country's presidential election, the electoral commission said Wednesday, after embattled incumbent Jose Mario Vaz crashed out of the race.

The runoff between Domingos Simoes Pereira and Umaro Sissoco Embalo, both ex-PMs, is set for December 29 in the poor former Portuguese colony.

Pereira, 56, is a stalwart of the African Party for the Independence of Guinea and Cape Verde (PAIGC), which won legislative elections in March.

His opponent, 47-year-old Embalo, belongs to Madem, an opposition party formed by PAIGC rebels.

Vaz's re-election bid ended unceremoniously with a fourth-place finish, the National Electoral Commission announced.

Sunday's first-round vote came as the country was in dire economic straits and Vaz was at loggerheads with parliament over his choices for prime minister.

Since independence in 1974, Guinea-Bissau has seen a string of military coups and political assassinations, with the latest coup dating to 2012.

Vaz is the first president in 25 years to reach the end of his mandate without being ousted or killed, though his political manoeuvring had recently sparked fears that the country would plunge into fresh violence.

Guinea-Bissau ranks 177th out of 189 on the UN Human Development Index, and two-thirds of the population live on less than $2 (1.8 euros) a day.

Latin American drug runners have exploited the instability and poverty to make Guinea-Bissau a hub along the cocaine-smuggling route to Europe.

'Re-establish order'

Pereira won 40.13 percent of the first-round votes, while Embalo garnered 27.65 percent.

Third place went to Nuno Gomes Nabiam, head of the small APU-PDGB party, with 13.16 percent, while Vaz trailed with just 12.41 percent.

Vaz, Pereira and Embalo were key players in the political drama that has seized Guinea-Bissau over the past four years.

It began with a falling-out between Vaz and then prime minister Pereira, whom he sacked in a move that riled the PAIGC.

None of Vaz's proposed prime ministers won parliamentary backing after that.

Embalo became prime minister in 2016 but resigned last year in a bid to end the long-standing crisis.

Sunday's first-round vote came as the country was in dire economic straits.  By JOHN WESSELS (AFP/File) Sunday's first-round vote came as the country was in dire economic straits. By JOHN WESSELS (AFP/File)

Parliament then did not sit for nearly two years until an accord in April 2018 saw Aristides Gomes appointed as "consensus prime minister".

The PAIGC won legislative elections in March this year, but Vaz refused to make Pereira prime minister and instead reappointed Gomes.

In October, Vaz sacked Gomes and his government, but they refused to step down, sparking fears of violence, with the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) even warning of a potential civil war.

Despite those concerns, Sunday's polling was mostly peaceful.

Vaz's campaign manager accused rivals from the PAIGC of stuffing ballot boxes. Both the country's electoral authority and ECOWAS dismissed the claims, however.

West African countries -- traditional mediators in Guinea-Bissau's internecine politics -- are leaving no room for error.

Francis Behanzin, an ECOWAS commissioner in charge of political affairs and security, said Monday that the bloc had a military force poised to "re-establish order" should a candidate attempt a coup.

Neighbouring states also fear that if a non-PAIGC candidate wins -- in this case, Embalo -- more deadlock between the president and the largest party in parliament may result.

Observers say the splintered opposition may rally round Embalo over Pereira.

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