- The former military ruler of Guinea-Bissau, Joăo Bernardo "Nino" Vieira, has taken a decisive lead in the second presidential poll round and seems bound to become the country's next President. "Nino" Vieira ruled Guinea-Bissau during its last stable period, although being partly responsible for the slide into chaos, before he was toppled in a coup in 1999.
The leader of the National Elections Commission (CNE) Malam Mané today announced the preliminary results for Sunday's presidential run-off, indicating a clear victory for ex-President Vieira. Mr Vieira was said to have won 55.25 percent of the votes, while the ruling PAIGC party's official candidate, Malam Bacai Sanha, got the remaining 44.75 percent.
The CNE leader made it clear that these preliminary results were clear enough to conclude that ex-President Vieira had won the run-off. The former military ruler thus seemed bound to become Guinea-Bissau's next democratically elected President.
According to the preliminary assessments of the many international election observer teams, the two poll rounds in the presidential elections have been free, fair and transparent. Observers from West African countries, the European Union (EU) and the Portuguese speaking community have all congratulated the CNE for its smooth and professional organisation of the poll, some even calling it "an example for West Africa."
There had however been indications that the announcement of the poll winner could initiate renewed violence in the chronically unstable country. CNE leader Mané yesterday announced that he would postpone the announcement for one day after an attempted assault on CNE headquarters in the early morning hours. Individuals who tried to break in to the Commission's headquarters, Mr Mané told the press in Bissau.
Also statements by the ruling PAIGC party today have been of concern. Officials from those parties supporting Mr Sanha told the press they would not accept the results even before they were announced. The PAIGC candidate yesterday evening claimed there was evidence of fraud in the capital, Bissau, and another district, calling for a recount of votes from those two districts.
After the announcement of Mr Vieira's victory, there were reported some minor clashes between supporters of the two candidates in the streets of Bissau. Local police forces however managed to separate and calm down the unarmed protesters. The army was not involved in the clashes or in the operation to calm down protesters.
Disturbed by these developments in Guinea-Bissau, UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan this evening appealed for calm "as the counting process continues before announcement of the final results and full restoration of constitutional rule." Mr Annan stressed the need to employ legal means to address any electoral grievances.
Mr Vieira, for his part, today stayed in the background, avoiding to cause more unrest. If his victory is confirmed, the ex-Dictator has made an unlikely comeback in Bissau-Guinean politics. Only some months ago, he lived in a low-profile Portuguese exile, being banned from taking part in politics in Bissau.
"Nino" Vieira came to power in a bloodless military coup in 1980, which brought down the Marxist regime of President Luiz Cabral. During the 1980s, President Vieira's one-party regime managed to turn the inherited economic disaster into progress, liberalising the economy and cooperating with the International Monetary Fund (IMF).
In the 1990s, President Vieira distanced himself from the army and introduced multi-party democracy. He won Guinea-Bissau's first-ever democratic elections in July 1994. By then, however, the economy again had started slipping, corruption became the order of the day and the Bissau government started losing confidence from previously generous Northern donor nations.
Parallel with the deepening economic crisis - which saw irregular payments to civil servants and the army and popular protests - President Vieira lost his remaining support within the army. Many underpaid officers and soldiers were engaged in the smuggling of drugs and arms to the rebels in Senegal's southern Casamance province, a business President Vieira sought to stop as part of his pro-Senegalese policies.
Deepened social unrest and an uprising in the army led to the 1998-99 civil war and the May 1999 military coup. Mr Vieira was sent into exile while the army installed Mr Sanha - the loser of Sunday's election - as interim President. Mr Sanha later lost the January 2000 elections to Kumba Yala, who came third in this year's elections after having been toppled in 2003.
Guinea-Bissau has experienced violence and political and economic chaos since the collapse of President Vieira's regime in 1998. Few observers gave Mr Vieira a real chance of winning this year's elections as he presented his candidacy this spring. Mr Sanha has been the favourite during the entire race.
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