- As two controversial ex-Presidents have announced their candidacy for Guinea-Bissau's 19 June presidential elections, concerns over the country's political stability are rising. Kumba Yala, who was overthrown in 2003 after failing to stabilise the country, is to represent the main opposition party, while ex-Dictator João Bernardo "Nino" Vieira may become his main rival.
Both men are formally banned from taking part in national politics, according to the interim constitution that guides Guinea-Bissau's transition towards democracy. These bans on ex-Presidents Yala and Vieira were especially announced to avoid a return to the instability and polarisation that marked their presidential terms.
Despite this ban, Mr Yala was elected the presidential candidate by a large majority of the opposition Social Renovation Party (PRS) at a meeting of the party's national council this weekend. He led the party during his 2000-03 presidency, after having won the presidential elections by a convincing 72 percent of the votes.
President Yala was overthrown in a military coup in September 2003, after he failed to organise legislative elections and the country was sinking into economic and political chaos. Guinea-Bissau's interim leadership, which included the PRS, thus agreed on a transition towards democracy. The transition regime included a five-year ban on political activities for former leaders.
This agreement also bans ex-Dictator Vieira from presenting his candidacy. The former military ruler - who came to power in a 1980 coup but was ousted in the 1998-99 civil war - nevertheless last week told he Portuguese agency Lusa that he wanted to return to Guinea-Bissau from his exile in Portugal. There, he would formally register as a presidential candidate.
Mr Vieira claims that there exists a petition signed by more than 30,000 Bissau-Guineans, urging him to stand candidate at the upcoming elections. Although his 19 years in power started as a one-party military dictatorship, President Vieira in 1994 was re-elected in the country's first-ever multi-party elections. A dispute between President Vieira and his army commander in 1998 led to a civil war and ongoing political instability.
Before the 1999 coup, President Vieira headed the African Party for the Independence of Guinea and Cape Verde (PAIGC), which had ruled Guinea-Bissau since independence in 1974. The PAIGC, which became the largest party after the March 2004 legislative elections, now dominates the government in Bissau. Current PAIGC leader Carlos Gomes Júnior is also the current Prime Minister of Guinea-Bissau.
The PAIGC however does not support the possible candidacy of ex-President Vieira. The ruling party instead has nominated Malam Bacai Sanha as its official candidate to the upcoming poll. Mr Sanha, who lost the January 2000 elections to Mr Yala, however cannot expect support from the entire ruling party if Mr Vieira stands candidate. Support to Mr Vieira has already been expressed by several PAIGV officials.
While Mr Sanha's candidacy on behalf of the PAIGC already seems cleared, ex-Presidents Yala and Vieira still could be turned down by Guinea-Bissau's Supreme Court, which must endorse all candidates. A proposed amnesty for all war crimes and power abuses between 1980 and 2004, which is now considered by the Bissau parliament, could also clear the candidacies of Mr Yala and Vieira, according to UN sources.
The possibility of Mr Yala and Mr Vieira becoming the top candidates at the 19 June presidential poll is causing some concern. Ex-President Vieira has a troubled relationship with the armed forces, which repeatedly have intervenes in national politics. Ex-President Yala, on the other hand, has a very poor reputation among potential donor countries and financial institutions, with the IMF and World Bank freezing aid to country during his presidency.
There are also concerns that an election with these two candidates could deepen the ethnic divisions and political tensions among Bissau-Guineans. Mr Yala has considerable support among the Balanta people, Guinea-Bissau's major population group and the dominant people in the armed forces. Outside the Balanta people, resistance to Mr Yala is high and there are unconfirmed reports of the establishment of armed groups along ethnic lines in Bissau.
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