Two former prime ministers of Guinea-Bissau are vying for the presidency in a runoff 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.
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 “reestablish order” in the event of a coup.
While there has not been a power grab in Guinea-Bissau since 2012, this election cycle has nevertheless been bumpy.
There was an outcry after Vaz fired his prime minister and Cabinet only a month before the November election. The ousted prime minister, Aristide Gomes, refused to step aside and his designated replacement swiftly resigned as regional pressure mounted.
The front-runner in Sunday’s runoff is Domingos Simoes Pereira, who finished with 40% of the first-round vote. He has a long history of political feuding with Vaz: The president fired him as prime minister in 2015 and refused earlier this year to choose him despite being parliament’s choice.
Another former prime minister, Umaro Sissoco Embalo, received just over 27% of the vote in the first round but has drawn support from a number of other candidates who did not advance to the runoff.
Guinea-Bissau, a nation of around 1.5 million people, has long been beset by poverty, 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 the corruption and weak law enforcement.
The drug trade has become less prominent since international law enforcement bodies joined a crackdown and made large seizures.