War vet wins Guinea Bissau vote

July 29, 2009 12:00 am

, BISSAU, Jul 30 – Malam Bacai Sanha, 62, the winner of Sunday’s presidential vote in Guinea-Bissau, is an ex-interim head of state and a veteran of the country’s independence war with long ties to the ruling party.

As candidate of the African Party for the Independence of Guinea and Cape Verde (PAIGC), Sanha took 63.52 percent of votes cast in the small, unstable west African country, defeating another former leader, Kumba Yala.

In 15 years, none of the three presidents of the former Portuguese colony completed their five-year terms. They were either overthrown by an influential army or assassinated by the military.

Sanha was interim president between June 1999 and May 2000, having been swept to power in the wake of a 1998 civil war that led to the departure of Joao Bernardo Vieira.

Vieira, another veteran, was back in office when last March soldiers killed him in apparent revenge for the death in a bomb attack hours earlier of the army chief of staff.

Before Sanha was announced winner of the latest poll, one of his aides, Sports Minister Baciro Bja, spelled out some of the challenges that await the new head of state.

"If he’s elected, his priority will be the reform of the security services, notably restructuring the army, the organisation of a national reconciliation conference and the re-establishment of the credibility of the state," Bja said.

"He recognised defeat twice, in 2000 and in 2005 (against Vieira)," the minister added. "He’s a man for peace and stability."

Sanha himself was surprised that there was a second round of voting this year. "I waged an excellent campaign and I was sure of winning with the first round. Well, that’s also democracy."

The last time he challenged Kumba Yala, who has acknowledged defeat in the 2009 poll, was in 2000, when Yala took 72 percent of the votes.

Sanha has held several ministerial posts and was speaker of the national assembly between 1994 and 1998.

He comes from the Beafada ethnic minority and was born in the southern Quinara region, later becoming an aide to Amilcar Cabral, the founder of the PAIGC and "father of independence."

In tribute to Cabral, Sanha sometimes wears a woolly hat like the founding father, and appears alternately in suits and in sweeping African boubou robes on his tall, corpulent figure.

He has a degree in political sciences from the University of Berlin in the former German Democratic Republic, won during the Cold War years.

Sanha is a Muslim, married and has one child.


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