Bissau-Guineans began to vote on Sunday to elect their new president, hoping to lift a stalemate that has become entangled for years a political class deemed corrupt and unable to meet the basic needs of a population among the most poor in the world.
« I just voted, a very important gesture for me and for the whole country because we hope that the country will definitively turn the dark page of instability, » told AFP Victor Nafassa, president of a polling station from Luanda, a district of the capital Bissau.
« All the material is in place, the candidates are represented. We started at 07:05 « , just a few minutes late, he added, as police officers monitor the area and national and international observers monitor the progress of the operation.
Polling stations must remain open until 17:00 (GMT and local). The first trends are expected at the beginning of the week. The date of December 29 was chosen for a highly likely second round.
If the campaign went virtually smoothly, a certain worry of a difficult future lies in the nearly 700,000 voters at the polls to decide between the 12 candidates – all men.
« I hope there will be no problem after the vote. Since independence, Guinea is in trouble. You see yourself the state of the country, « says Justin Malang, a 47-year-old driver, while nearly 70 percent of some 1.8 million Bissau-Guineans live on less than $ 2 a day.
This former Portuguese colony in West Africa, which has been subscribed to coups since its independence in 1974, has lived for the past four years in the midst of the quarrels between President José Mario Vaz and the country’s main formation, the historical African Party for the Independence of Guinea and Cape Verde (PAIGC).
Mr. Vaz, elected in 2014 under the label of PAIGC before being excluded, sparked the spark by dismissing in August 2015 its Prime Minister, Domingos Simoes Pereira, head of the same training.
Under his chairmanship, the Prime Ministers succeeded one after the other, under the watchful eye of the West African countries, which have multiplied the efforts of mediation.
At the same time, teachers’ strikes demanding the payment of large salary arrears paralyzed a dormant education sector for months.
Favorites from the system
Two weeks before the presidential election, the international community was still worried about a questioning of the election and even of « risks of civil war », but the campaign took place in a festive atmosphere, with noisy caravans of candidates gathering thousands of people.
« It is already a challenge to have organized this election. It’s a step that has been taken, « Julien Nounontin Oussou, head of the Group of Local Civil Society Organizations (Gosce), told AFP.
The favorites of the election come from the system and have been actors of the crises of the last years, starting with the outgoing president, José Mario Vaz, and his great rival Domingos Simoes Pereira. There is also Umaro Sissoco Embalo, at the head of a PAIGC dissent, or Nuno Nabiam, beaten in the second round in 2014.
Driven by the military between the two rounds as he was the favorite of the 2012 election, former Prime Minister Carlos Gomes Junior is again trying his luck.
After years of accusations of corruption and drug trafficking, the new president may be tempted to bring with him « hatred, resentment and settling of accounts, » an analyst told AFP, saying that « many politicians will have to go into exile « to escape prosecution.
Will the army stay in its barracks?
The presence of armed soldiers in front of the grids of the presidency and vehicles of Ecomib, the force of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) deployed in the country since the coup of 2012 recall that the history of Guinea-Bissau is marked by political coups and assassinations.
But the army has not intervened in the last five years and its leader, General Biagu Na Ntam, assured that she thought « no longer to foment coups, » suggesting that it will remain in its barracks.