Guinea-Bissau votes for new president

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Voters in Guinea-Bissau head for the polls in search of a president and parliament in the hopes of returning stability to a country upended by a military coup.

Sunday's polls cap four decades of chaos caused by a series of mutinies since Guinea-Bissau won independence from Portugal, and commentators have called for the new regime to finally bring the military into line.

The impoverished west African nation has been stagnating for two years under the rule of a transitional government backed by the all-powerful military, with the economy anaemic and cocaine trafficking fuelling corruption.

"The new government will have to call into question the privileges enjoyed by senior military officers and carefully resume the security sector reforms that prompted the army to stage the coup," said Vincent Foucher, a senior analyst for the International Crisis Group.

"This time round, the government should proceed with caution and seek compromise to avoid a violent reaction from the army," Foucher said.

Chronic volatility has fanned poverty in the country of 1.6m people with few resources other than cashew nuts and fish, attracting South American drug cartels which have turned it into a hub of cocaine trafficking for West Africa.

The drug trade and the money it generates have corrupted all of Guinea-Bissau's public institutions and in particular the armed forces whose senior officers are accused of involvement in trafficking.

The United States charged 2012 coup leader Antonio Indjai in April last year with drug trafficking and seeking to sell arms to Colombian FARC rebels, while former navy chief Jose Americo Bubo Na Tchuto was arrested by US federal agents in waters off West Africa last year as he was allegedly about to receive a large shipment of cocaine.

'Respecting the results'

Thirteen politicians have been seeking to convince the people of Guinea-Bissau that they can stand up to the generals and reform the armed forces as the new president, while 15 parties are fielding candidates for parliamentary seats.

On the eve of the polls, the chief of west African bloc ECOWAS, Kadre Desire Ouedraogo, said all the candidates and parties have given their commitment that "all aspire to live in a new country, a country of justice, a country of freedom".

"They have also affirmed their willingness and determination to respect the results of the election," he added.

The much-delayed elections are the first since Antonio Indjai, a former army chief of staff, agreed in May 2012 to hand power to a civilian transitional regime headed by President Manuel Serifo Nhamadjo.

Although campaigning was completed on Friday with no major security incident, polling will be supervised by 4,200 Bissau-Guinean and west African soldiers.

More than 500 international observers will decide whether voting has been free and credible.

If no clear winner emerges, a presidential runoff is scheduled on May 18.

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