2 ex-prime ministers vie for Guinea-Bissau presidency

International News
Domingos Simoes Pereira

FIEL – In this Sept. 29, 2014, file photo, Domingos Simoes Pereira, then prime minister of Guinea-Bissau, speaks during the 69th session of the United Nations General Assembly at U.N. headquarters. Two former prime ministers of Guinea-Bissau are vying for the presidency in a runoff election Sunday, Dec. 29, 2019 after the incumbent failed to reach the second round in the tumultuous West African country once described by the United Nations as a narco-state. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig, File)

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BISSAU, Guinea-Bissau (AP) — Two former prime ministers of Guinea-Bissau faced a runoff presidential election Sunday after the incumbent failed to reach the second round in the tumultuous West African country once described by the United Nations as a narco-state.

President Jose Mario Vaz, in power since 2014, has vowed to respect the results in a rare gesture of political stability. Vaz is the first democratically elected president to complete a full term without being deposed or assassinated since the country’s independence from Portugal in 1974.

Linica Correia, 29, said she cast her ballot for front-runner Domingos Simoes Pereira, who finished with 40% of the first-round vote and has since been endorsed by six of the 10 eliminated candidates.

“The Guinean people have already suffered enough,” she said. “I hope that the next president recognizes this suffering and works to transform the country by giving back peace and stability to the people.”

While there has not been a power grab in Guinea-Bissau since 2012, the country has had seven prime ministers appointed since August 2015. There was enough concern ahead of the Nov. 24 first-round vote that the regional bloc ECOWAS said it had a military force on standby to “re-establish order” in the event of a coup.

The lead-up to the election was bumpy: Vaz fired his prime minister and Cabinet a month before the November vote, sparking outcry. The ousted prime minister, Aristide Gomes, refused to step aside and his designated replacement swiftly resigned as regional pressure mounted.

Pereira, the front-runner, has a long history of feuding with the president: Vaz fired him as prime minister in 2015 and refused earlier this year to choose him for the post.

Pereira has cast himself as the candidate who can create the economic conditions that would allow for development in Guinea-Bissau, one of the world’s poorest countries.

Another former prime minister, Umaro Sissoco Embalo, received just over 27% of the first-round vote but has drawn support from four of the eliminated candidates, including outgoing president Vaz.

Guinea-Bissau, a nation of around 1.5 million people, has long been beset by corruption and drug trafficking. In the 2000s, it became known as a transit point for cocaine between Latin America and Europe as traffickers profited from corruption and weak law enforcement.

The drug trade has become less prominent with increasing enforcement. In September, the government seized more than 2 tons of cocaine in its largest seizure yet, according to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime. Ten people were arrested, including three Colombian nationals.

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Krista Larson in Dakar, Senegal contributed.

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