BISSAU (Reuters) - Guinea Bissau’s election commission on Wednesday rejected opposition complaints of fraud during a March 18 first-round presidential vote in the West African state, and set a decisive run-off for April 22.
The election to replace Malam Bacai Sanha, who died in a Paris hospital in January after a long illness, was meant to usher in stability to the coup-prone country, which has become a transhipment point for Latin American cocaine bound for Europe.
Former prime minister Carlos Gomes Junior, who fell just short of an outright majority in the first round, is meant to face rival Kumba Yala in the run-off, but Yala has said he will boycott the vote in protest over alleged first-round rigging.
Yala and four other opposition leaders filed a formal complaint with the national election commission last week, saying that Gomes Junior orchestrated “massive fraud” that included widespread double-voting.
“The National Electoral Commission declared null and void all claims by the group of five candidates,” said Desejado Lima da Costa, president of the CNE, during a news conference heavily guarded by security forces.
He said the electoral body had determined the alleged fraud would not have affected the overall outcome of the vote.
The United States said last week it was concerned about the opposition’s fraud complaints and called on Bissau authorities to investigate them fully.
Guinea Bissau has a long history of coups and assassinations since independence from Portugal in 1974, and its weak policing and tortuous coastline of mangrove-lined islands have made it a haven for drug smugglers.
An ordinary Bissau Guinean lives on less than $2 a day. A combination of military meddling and health problems has prevented any president from serving a full term since multi-party politics began in 1994.
Writing by Richard Valdmanis; Editing by Mark Heinrich