Guinea-Bissau vote stalls over fraud charges (40431)

Mar. 27 (GIN) – Since becoming independent from Portugal in 1974, Guinea-Bissau has struggled through a dictatorship, three coups and the 2009 assassination of President Joao Bernardo Vieira.

Now, the election to replace the last president, Malam Bacai Sanha, who died in January after a long illness, is in disarray. Losing candidates have called the process a fraud and are refusing to take part in any run-off.

Second place finisher Kumba Yala, a former president who was overthrown in a 2003 coup, told reporters Thursday: “I will not compete in a second round, or even a third round of the election because these elections are fraudulent.”

Yala retains strong support from his Balanta ethnic group, the country’s largest. He received 23 percent of the vote after ex-prime minister Carlos Gomes Jr., who got nearly 49 percent among the nine candidates competing in Sunday’s poll. Electoral law calls for a runoff between the top two finishers if none of the candidates received more than 50 percent.

Gomes, claiming victory, expressed delight at the result, adding that his ruling African Party for the Independence of Guinea and Cape Verde (APIGCV) was unbeatable.

Election observers said voting appeared to go smoothly in this country of 1.6 million people but critics expressed doubt after the government refused to update a voter register from 2008, leaving more than 100,000 people off the list.

The leading candidates have promised to make fighting drugs a priority. According to a leaked 2009 U.S. diplomatic cable, an estimated 800-1,000 kg of cocaine are flown into Guinea Bissau every night along with an unknown amount ferried by sea into the maze of mangrove-lined islands that make up much of its coast.