BISSAU, Guinea-Bissau (AP) — 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.
Polls opened on time Sunday and there appeared to be “great enthusiasm” from voters, ldemiro Baloi, chief of the election observation mission for the Community of Portuguese-Speaking Countries, told Portugal’s Lusa news agency.
While there has not been a power grab in Guinea-Bissau since 2012, 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.
The lead-up to the election was also bumpy: Vaz fired his prime minister and Cabinet only 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.
The front-runner in Sunday’s runoff is Domingos Simoes Pereira, who finished with 40% of the first-round vote and has since been endorsed by six of the 10 eliminated candidates.
Pereira has a long history of political feuding with the current president: Vaz fired him as prime minister in 2015 and refused earlier this year to choose him despite being parliament’s choice.
He has cast himself as the candidate who can create the economic conditions that would allow for development in Guinea-Bissau, which remains one of the world’s poorest countries.
“The people must make the right choice with the candidate who is able to work with this government and ensure political and government stability,” Pereira told supporters at his final campaign rally on Friday.
Another former prime minister, Umaro Sissoco Embalo, received just over 27% of the vote in the first round 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 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 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.