- Sunday's presidential polls are seen as a great chance for Guinea-Bissau to end its bad circle of political instability. The largest risk is the candidacy of ex-President Kumba Yala, most observers hold, but Mr Yala seems to be losing popularity among a population longing for peace, stability and development.
During the last few weeks, the situation in Guinea-Bissau has become more controlled and calmer, despite the rapidly approaching elections. International mediation and the unwillingness of the authorities to get provoked by Mr Yala's provocations seem to be paving the way for a peaceful poll exercise on Sunday.
Ex-President Yala, who was toppled in a popular military coup in September 2003, last month claimed he still was the rightful ruler of Guinea-Bissau and tried to occupy the presidential palace in Bissau. Met with a cold shoulder and protests from the international community, Mr Yala however has returned to more common election campaigning.
Emerging as a favourite earlier this year, reports from Bissau indicate that Mr Yala is surrounded by fewer and fewer sympathisers. Political observers now rate Mr Yala as number three, behind the ruling party's candidate Malam Bacai Sanha and an independent candidate, ex-Dictator João Bernardo "Nino" Vieira. Both are campaigning for political stability and economic development.
Mr Sanha, who was narrowly beaten by Mr Yala in the 1999 polls, is now turning into the new favourite to win Sunday's elections. He is selling himself as a guarantor of the recent successes by Guinea-Bissau's transitional government, which has reintroduced democracy, respect for human rights and political and economic stability since the coup d'état.
The ruling party candidate also enjoys the trust of the international society, which will be necessary for Guinea-Bissau to start attracting foreign loans and investments. This international preference for Mr Sanha is getting an enhanced importance among the electorate, which remembers how Guinea-Bissau was increasingly isolated during Mr Yala's unpredictable ruling.
The international community also repeatedly has emphasised its discomfort with ex-President Yala, strongly indicating to Bissau-Guinean voters that peace, stability and foreign support only will be achieved if the right man is elected. Interestingly, the "importance" of Sunday's polls for Guinea-Bissau's further stability and development is more often emphasised internationally than nationally.
First, however, all agree that the peaceful organisation of the polls is of utmost importance for further developments. Recent tensions over preparations for Guinea-Bissau's elections had demonstrated that "peace and stability remain fragile and require the continued engagement of all key national and international actors," UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan for example says in a report presented to the UN Security Council today.
Also regionally, great efforts are made to assure peaceful elections. The President of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), Mamadou Tanja, announced the regional block's support for "free, transparent and fair" polls. The Community of Portuguese Speaking Countries (CPLP) has already stationed 39 election observers in the country and 30 more are expected.
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