, Bissau, Guinea-Bissau, Mar 10 – Guinea-Bissau voted Sunday in legislative elections it is hoped will end a protracted leadership deadlock in a country renowned for drug trafficking and instability.
Polls closed at 1700 GMT and voting passed off without incident with Kadre Desire Ouedraogo, head of the ECOWAS observation mission, noting “calm and discipline on the part of voters and a strong turnout”.
Earlier voter Victor Pereira, 42, said he cast his ballot because he wanted to see “the development of my country”.
The one-time Marxist ruling party PAIGC, which has run the poor West African state of two million for most of the 45 years since winning independence from Portugal, fielded candidates along with 20 opposition parties.
Among them were the main opposition Party of Social Renewal and the Movement for Democratic Change (Madem-G15), made up of dissidents from the African Party for the Independence of Guinea and Cape Verde (PAIGC).
The latest crisis arose in August 2015 when President Jose Mario Vaz, elected a year earlier, sacked his prime minister, Domingos Simoes Pereira who was head of the PAIGC, after a falling out.
The country’s instability has attracted drug traffickers, with senior government and military officials implicated in the trade.
The UN has praised progress in the fight against drugs under Vaz, but in a reminder of the scale of the trade in the informal economy, authorities Sunday seized nearly 800 kilograms (1,700 pounds) of cocaine, the biggest drugs haul in more than a decade.
First results from the polls are expected on Tuesday evening.
Vaz said he was happy to see the vote going ahead.
“It has not been easy but I am happy today because since democracy was introduced in 1994, no parliament has served out a full term,” he said after casting his vote.
Vaz has appointed a series of prime ministers, but none garnered sufficient support to achieve a parliamentary majority.
Finally in April 2018, the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) brokered an agreement leading to the designation of a consensus prime minister, Aristide Gomes, and the resumption of work by the 102-seat parliament.
Gomes was given the caretaker task of preparing for parliamentary polls, in which 36 percent of candidates must be women for the first time.
Initially set for November 18, the polls were postponed to March 10 mainly for technical reasons.
– Crunch polls –
The party that wins should appoint the future prime minister, who could once again be Vaz’s rival Simoes Pereira.
“These are the most contested elections in the history of Guinea-Bissau. We are coming out of a near four-year political crisis and no government has been able to complete its term,” said political analyst Rui Landim.
The UN Security Council noted in a resolution late last month that “the armed forces have remained neutral and have not interfered with the constitutional order” — in a country that has seen 16 coup attempts since independence of which four were successful.
International sanctions remain in place since 2012, after the last violent power seizure.
Guinea-Bissau’s porous coastline and chronic instability have made it a target for Latin American drug lords trafficking cocaine to Europe.
Cashews, the main export, accounted for nearly half of the national budget in 2017.
Some 760,000 people were eligible to vote but the opposition has contested the accuracy of the electoral roll for Sunday’s polls, which are being closely watched by international observers.
Another election is on the horizon, as Vaz’s five-year term ends on June 23.