Stability is key word in Guinea-Bissau second-round campaign

By Nico Colombant

Abidjan, 11 July 2005 - A lively campaign has opened in Guinea-Bissau for a second round presidential election pitting a long-time former military ruler against a short-term former interim leader.

Former military strongman Joao Bernardo Nino Vieira sings along at a campaign rally in the birth village of Kumba Yala, the third-place candidate in the first round. Mr. Yala has asked his supporters from the Social Renovation Party to vote for Mr. Vieira, who is running as an independent.

This makes his supporters confident going into the scheduled July 24 run-off.

"Nino Vieira is the solution of Guinea-Bissau," a supporter said. "He is the hope of the young people of Guinea-Bissau that is why they are supporting Nino Vieira, [so that he] will bring peace and stability in Guinea-Bissau,"

Another supporter says Mr. Vieira has more regional weight than his opponent, ruling-party candidate Malam Bacai Sanha.

He says Guinea-Bissau needs outside help to ensure stability, and that only Mr. Vieira can secure it.

Asked what he can do differently than during his 18 years in power, which ended with a violent insurgency, Mr. Vieira is effusive. He says, without being specific, he has projects, many projects that he never carried out. More generally, he says, he will work for peace and reconciliation and there will be no revenge during his time in power.

Successive heads of the armed forces have been brutally killed in recent years. Mr. Vieira and Mr. Yala were both toppled after being elected.

The chants are much the same at the rally of Mr. Sanha, running for the former Independence Party, and the first-place finisher in the first round with 35 percent of that vote.

His supporters sing for peace, stability and reconciliation in the impoverished former Portuguese colony.

Mr. Sanha says the proof is in the numbers.

He says he will win beacuse he is the one attracting large rallies. Asked why voters should choose him, his answer is also vague. He says his party is the right one for the past, the present, and future.

His supporters are equally confident.

"We were not supposed to go to second round and we know that we are going to win the election, even going to the second round," said one of them.

Another supporter is not afraid of the Vieira-Yala alliance.

"No, I know, we are going to win anyway because Nino has no power, he just only moves with money," he said.

Both teams of supporters have campaigned peacefully. But during the campaign and aftermath of the first round, Yala supporters were blamed for unrest.

Mr. Yala said he believed he won the elections outright, but that in the interest of peace he accepted the results. This was after Senegal's leader Abdoulaye Wade told him he was a young politician who still had a future in Guinea-Bissau politics.