BISSAU, Apr 13 – Guinea-Bissau held watershed elections on Sunday for a president and parliament aimed at ushering in a new era of stability in a country plagued by drugs and upended by a military coup.
The polls cap four decades of chaos marked by a series of mutinies since the West African nation won independence from Portugal, and commentators have called for the new regime to finally bring the military into line.
The impoverished country has been stagnating for two years under the rule of a transitional government backed by the all-powerful military, with the economy anaemic and cocaine trafficking fuelling corruption.
Interim president Manuel Serifo Nhamadjo, who is not a candidate, told AFP he “hoped and wished to turn the page to stability”.
“The problem of Guinea-Bissau is political and military, and everyone must work together in mutual respect,” he said.
Chronic volatility has fanned poverty in the country of 1.6 million with few resources other than cashew nuts and fish, attracting South American drug cartels which have turned it into a hub of cocaine trafficking for West Africa.
The drug trade and the money it generates have corrupted all of Guinea-Bissau’s public institutions, in particular the armed forces, whose senior officers are accused of involvement in trafficking.
The United States charged 2012 coup leader Antonio Indjai in April last year with drug trafficking and seeking to sell arms to Colombian FARC rebels, while former navy chief Jose Americo Bubo Na Tchuto was arrested by US federal agents in waters off west Africa last year as he was allegedly about to receive a large shipment of cocaine.
“The new government will have to call into question the privileges enjoyed by senior military officers and carefully resume the security sector reforms that prompted the army to stage the coup,” said Vincent Foucher, a senior analyst for the International Crisis Group.
“This time round, the government should proceed with caution and seek compromise to avoid a violent reaction from the army.”
– Security sector reforms –
Thirteen politicians have been seeking to convince the people of Guinea-Bissau that they can stand up to the generals and reform the armed forces as the new president, while 15 parties are fielding candidates for parliamentary seats.