, BISSAU, Jul 26 – Voters go to the polls Sunday in Guinea-Bissau for a presidential runoff between two former heads of state of the coup-prone West African nation, whose veteran leader was assassinated in May.
Observers hope the new president will bring a degree of stability to the former Portuguese colony of some 1.3 million people, which has suffered repeated coups since independence in 1974 and is now a haven for drug runners.
Nearly 600,000 people are eligible to cast their ballots at some 2,700 polling stations, which open at 7:00 am (0700 GMT) and close at 5:00 pm.
The two former presidents, Malam Bacai Sanha and Kumba Yala, won the biggest share of the vote in the first round on June 28. Sanha secured 39.59 percent of the first-round ballots — a 10-point advantage over Yala.
The vote was triggered by the killing of long-time president Joao Bernardo Vieira by soldiers on March 2, in an apparent revenge attack after the assassination of army chief General Batista Tagme Na Waie in a bomb attack.
In June, the army killed two senior political figures in what they claimed was an operation to foil a coup plot.
Guinea-Bissau has been overwhelmed by the international drugs trade, becoming a key transit point in cocaine smuggling between South America and Europe.
But another priority for the new president will simply be clinging to power. None of the three presidents elected in the past 15 years has managed to complete his full five-year term.
The murder of Vieira, who ruled Guinea-Bissau for much of the past 25 years, came about a decade after the military ousted him during a previous stint as president.
Sanha, 62, the candidate for the ruling African Party for the Independence of Guinea and Cape Verde (PAIGC), served as interim president from June 1999 to May 2000.
And Yala, 56, who is running Sunday as head of the Social Renewal Party, was forced out by the army in 2003.
Yala and Sanha have already faced each other in a second-round runoff for Guinea-Bissau’s presidency in 2000, when Yala emerged victorious.
Both rounds of the current election were financed entirely by the international community at a cost of 5.1 million euros (7.2 million dollars).
The CNE says about 150 international observers will be on the ground Sunday for the vote, which was brought forward from August 2 to Sunday. Nearly 4,900 soldiers, police and paramilitary will be deployed to ensure security.