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Presidential election kicks off in Guinea-Bissau

BISSAU, March 18 — Guinea-Bissau's presidential election kicked off Sunday morning with an expectation of thousands of voters turning out during a 10-hour vote period to elect a new president after the death of President Malam Bacai Sanha in January due to a long illness.

According to its National Electoral Commission, about 2,686 polls in 27 polling stations are opened in this west African nation's seven provinces for voters from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. local time (0700 to 1700 GMT) to cast their votes.

There are currently about 509,000 registered voters in Guinea-Bissau, according to the commission. The military and paramilitary voted on March 15 due to their duty of maintenance of order on March 18.

Nine candidates are vying for presidency, including two top favorites, former President Kumba Yala, who was overthrown in a coup in 2003, and former Prime Minister Carlos Gomes Junior.

The tally of votes will start immediately after the 10-hour process. Currently, Raimundo Pereira, the speaker of the Parliament, has served in an interim capacity since Jan. 9 following the death of President Malam Bacai Sanha in Paris where he was receiving medical treatment for an unspecified illness since November last year.

The former Portuguese colony, one of the poorest countries in the world with 1.6 million people, was troubled by constant frictions, often deadly, between the army and state since 1974 after independence, which resulted in chronic instability.

The country has never had an elected president finish his term in office since it introduced multi-party elections in 1994. Former President Joao Bernardo Vieira was ousted by an army uprising in 1998.

The then elected President Kumba Yala was toppled in a coup in 2003. Vieira was again elected as president in 2005 and four years later he was assassinated by the army in 2009. The latest president died of illness before finishing his first term.

European Union, African Union and the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) have deployed about 180 observers to ensure the smooth going and transparency of the presidential election.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon on Thursday called for a "peaceful, orderly and transparent manner" in the upcoming presidential elections in the nation. (PNA/Xinhua) scs/rsm

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