- The presidential polls in Guinea-Bissau will be held on 19 June, the government now has announced. The election date was chosen by an agreement between the opposition and the interim government and the June polls will finally end the country's transition period.
The date was announced by Tcherno Cali Baldé, spokesman of transitional President Henrique Rosa. Mr Rosa has been in power since 28 September 2003, following a broad political agreement after the country's armed forces had ousted democratically elected President Kumba Yala from power.
The UN's development programme (UNDP) already has announced it will assist Bissau authorities in organising the upcoming presidential elections. The UN agency views the poll as "one of the crucial aims to conclude the transitional period," and wants to assure a smooth and well-organised election.
Preparations have already been initiated. The registration of voters started this weekend and UNDP and Bissau authorities expect the voters' roll to be updated within 15 days. An estimated 750,000 potential voters are to receive new voter's cards, thus nullifying those used in last year's chaotic parliamentary polls.
The date for the election was picked after discussions between the government of Prime Minister Carlos Gomes Júnior - who is also leader of the PAIGC independence party - and the leader of the opposition Social Democratic Union (PUSD), Francisco Fadul. The leader of the opposition Party of Social Renewal (PRS), Artur Sanhá, also participated in the negotiations. The PRS formerly was led by ex-President Yala.
The date of the election day will now have to be officially published as a decree before the end of April. Already next month, the different presidential candidates are expected to be presented to the public and the electoral campaign may begin.
Hopes are high that the organisation of the 19 June election will be peaceful to assure that political stability returns to impoverished Guinea-Bissau. In a political chaos since 1999, the country has slipped into deep poverty and has seen its development halted. Potential donor countries and institutions such as the IMF have promised to re-engage in the country if the transition is successful.
Joăo Honwana, leader of the UN peacekeeping force in Guinea-Bissau (ONUGBIS), is one of the persons to emphasise that the polls are a "fundamental test" for the country. With this poll exercise, the political transition that started with last year's legislative elections comes to an end.
According to Mr Honwana, this also means that the old constitution "will return to be applied, including those lines and articles that were suspended due to the transition." Guinea-Bissau's new leadership will have to rule by the law to be accepted by the international community and it will receive significant donor aid if it plays its cards well, observers agree.
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