Experts hail strong turnout in Guinea-Bissau elections

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BISSAU: Almost three-quarters of Guinea-Bissau’s eligible voters turned out for watershed elections called to turn the page on years of political instability and military violence, officials said on Monday.
Voters went to the polls on Sunday in the first presidential and parliamentary polls in the west African nation since a military coup in 2012. “The numbers are positive. Taking into account the voter turnout in the various polling stations, participation would exceed 70 percent,” the election commission’s president, Augusto Mendes, told reporters.
He said the commission hoped to publish official results from Wednesday, but if confirmed, the figure would be well in excess of the turnout in the most recent presidential votes in 2009 and 2012, which was around 60 percent. The polls are the first since a former army chief of staff agreed in 2012 to hand power to a civilian transitional regime. But Guinea-Bissau has seen 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.
In recent years, the country has been plagued by corruption and drugs, and since the latest coup, has been stagnating under the rule of a transitional government backed by the all-powerful military. Chronic volatility has fanned poverty in the country of 1.6 million people, which has few resources other than cashew nuts and fish. The anaemic economy has fuelled corruption, but also attracted South American drug cartels which have turned it into a hub of cocaine trafficking for west Africa.
The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) called for an end to travel bans and asset freezes imposed on the country’s military leaders in the wake of the coup by the international community, as well as a number of other diplomatic, economic and financial sanctions. “We call for the lifting of sanctions because the elections were well conducted and well done,” Kadre Desire Ouedraogo, the president of the ECOWAS Commission told AFP. Ouedraogo added that “work remains to be done” and that “the hardest part will be after the publication of results”. He said 750 soldiers sent to Guinea-Bissau by the 15-member bloc would remain until December, backed up by a civilian team which would establish a forum for dialogue between politicians, the military and ordinary people.
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 fielded candidates for parliamentary seats. Among the presidential hopefuls are political heavyweights such as former finance minister Jose Mario Vaz, and Abel Incada, a member of the Party for Social Renewal of former president Kumba Yala, who died earlier this month. The dark horse, however, could be 50-year-old independent candidate Paulo Gomes, an unusual proposition in a scene hitherto dominated by political grandees who made their names during the war of independence. 

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