See also:
» 05.06.2009 - Political figures killed and hunted in Guinea-Bissau
» 15.05.2009 - Guinea Bissau gets international support for elections
» 04.03.2009 - Bissau’s interim president affirms democratic rule
» 26.11.2008 - UN Security Council calls for peaceful solutions in Guinea-Bissau
» 21.11.2008 - Optimism in Guinea-Bissau after successful polls
» 16.10.2008 - UN welcomes Guinea-Bisaau election process
» 14.08.2008 - ECOWAS mission to study Bissau crisis
» 13.08.2008 - Bissau coup leader re-arrested

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Growing concern over Guinea-Bissau polls

afrol News, 13 April - The candidacy of ex-President Kumba Yala in Guinea-Bissau's 19 June presidential polls is causing growing international concern about "mounting political and social tensions" in the country. Mr Yala was overthrown in a military coup in September 2003 and is banned from political activities in the transitional constitution, also agreed to by his party.

Ex-President Yala's Party for Social Renovation (PRS) is currently the main opposition party in Guinea-Bissau, and political tension immediately rose when it elected Mr Yala as its official presidential candidate last month. The PRS is one of the parties to the Transitional Charter, which seeks to establish political stability in the transition process to democracy after the 2003 coup.

The Transitional Charter however also puts a five-year ban on political activities for Mr Yala, who is widely blamed for throwing the country into political and economic chaos and alienating foreign cooperation partners. The September 2003 coup was largely welcomed in Guinea-Bissau and abroad due to President Yala's perceived disability to bring peace and progress to the country.

On Monday, however, some 3000 people turned out to greet the ex-President as he drove through the capital, Bissau, to officially present his candidacy for the polls. He stated that there was "no law in this country" that could prevent his candidacy. Mr Yala earlier has hinted he would try to seize power by force if the Bissau Supreme Court rules against his candidacy.

A conflict over his eligibility has a potential of creating ethnic tensions in the country. 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 already unconfirmed reports of the establishment of armed groups along ethnic lines in Bissau.

Meanwhile, ex-Dictator Joăo Bernardo "Nino" Vieira - who came to power in a 1980 coup but was ousted in the 1998-99 civil war - is emerging as Mr Yala's main challenger. Mr Vieira on 7 April returned to Bissau from his Portuguese exile and was met by a cheering crowd of more than 5,000 people, including prominent officials from the ruling PAIGC party. Also Mr Vieira is banned from politics in the Transitional Charter.

The rising temperature ahead of the June polls is causing increased concern in the international community, which had observed tremendous progress in Guinea-Bissau during the transitional government of President Henrique Rosa and Prime Minister Carlos Gomes Júnior. So far, the transitional leaders have managed to organise peaceful parliamentary polls and regained confidence among donors and financial institutions.

This is now jeopardised by Mr Yala's candidacy, according to the European Union (EU). Last week, the EU presidency said it recognised the "progress achieved in Guinea-Bissau in the last months, especially in the areas of the electoral process and in economic and budgetary management." However, the 19 June poll was causing great concern in Brussels.

The EU presidency expressed growing concern at the decision by Mr Yala and the PRS party to run for the presidential. "This decision which goes against the Transitional Charter ... as well as his recent public declarations of radicalism and appeals for social and political unrest, can seriously undermine the efforts and progress achieved by the authorities of Guinea-Bissau during the current political and military transitional process," the EU said.

Today, also UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan expressed his concern with "the mounting political and social tensions in Guinea-Bissau." Without directly mentioning Mr Yala and his candidacy, Mr Annan urged all political actors in Bissau "to participate constructively in dialogue and to refrain from any action or statement that could jeopardise peaceful elections and stability in the country."

For the UN, a return to power by Mr Yala would be a great set-back. UN media such as 'IRIN' were among those hailing the September 2003 coup although Mr Yala had been democratically elected by a large majority of Bissau-Guineans. Several UN agencies also have celebrated the progress made during the transitional regime in statements that included dissatisfaction with Mr Yala's governance. They might thus find it difficult to cooperate with a re-elected President Yala.

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