Polls have opened in Guinea-Bissau in a presidential election that many hope will bring stability to the West African country after years of political turmoil.
More than 760,000 voters have registered to take vote in the poll, which is being contested by 12 candidates, all men. Voting stations opened at 07:00 GMT and will close at 17:00 GMT.
President Jose Mario Vaz is seeking re-election for another five years but faces stiff opposition following a first term marred by political infighting and regular high-level sackings that came to a head in the run-up to the election.
On October 29, Vaz fired Prime Minister Aristides Gomes and appointed a successor. Gomes, however, refused to step down and for about 10 days the country had two prime ministers – until Vaz backed down under pressure from the regional bloc Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS).
While no reliable opinion polls have been published, one of Vaz’s main challengers is believed to be Domingos Simoes Pereira, a former prime minister whose sacking in 2015 triggered years of quarrels with Parliament over who would lead the government.
There have been seven prime ministers since Vaz, Guinea-Bissau’s first democratically-elected president to finish his term, took over in 2014.
Al Jazeera’s Nicolas Haque reporting from the capital, Bissau said the country’s political turmoil is down to its governance system.
“The reason why there is so much instability in this country is because the president doesn’t necessarily have all the powers. It is also down to the government and the prime minister,” Haque said.
“And the reason why you have this political stalemate or deadlock happening in the last couple of years is because there’s a battle over power between the prime minister, who is the head of the government and controls the budget and laws, and the president who is the head of the armed forces,” he added.
Hopes for period of calm
Guinea Bissau has suffered nine coups or attempted coups since independence from Portugal in 1974, most recently in 2012 when a military takeover disrupted elections.
“The presidential election is a promising step towards political stability,” Maurice Toupane, a researcher at the Institute for Security Studies, told Al Jazeera.
“In a short term, they [polls] could lead to the clarification of the political game with the election of a legitimate president and the formation of a legitimate government,” Toupane said.
The next president will inherit major challenges including widespread poverty and an unstable political system in which the majority party appoints the government but the president has the power to dismiss it.
Corruption is also a serious problem – Transparency International ranked Guinea-Bissau 172 out of 180 countries in its 2018 corruption index – which has become worse by the criminal activities of international drug networks.
Candidates have promised to tackle the illegal drug trade and stop the country from being one of the most important transit points for drugs from Latin America to Europe.
Preliminary results are expected on November 28. If no candidate receives more than 50 percent of the vote, a run-off between the top two candidates will be held on December 29.