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Guinea-Bissau will pick between two presidential hopefuls on Sunday in a run-off vote to decide who is best-placed to return stability to a country plagued by drugs and upended in a military coup two years ago.
Already mired in poverty, the West African nation has been stagnating since 2012 under the rule of a transitional government backed by its all-powerful military, with the economy anaemic and cocaine trafficking fuelling corruption.
Former finance minister Jose Mario Vaz won the first round on April 13 - the first presidential vote since the army put a stop to the 2012 election - but failed to get an outright majority and faces runner-up Nuno Gomes Nabiam in the run-off.
“The big unknown is what the role of the army will be, taking into account that it intervened in 2012 to stop the process,” said Bissau-based political analyst Bamba Kote.
“The military high command supports Nuno but will the army dare to intervene again in the current context, with a large number of observers and the international community closely following the process?”
Guinea-Bissau has a history of coups and no elected leader has served a full term in office since the country gained independence from Portugal in 1974 after a 11-year war.
Its 1.6 million people have suffered intermittent unrest since liberation, as well as a series of military coups attributed largely to the unprecedented bloating of the army after the war.
The chronic volatility has fanned poverty in a country with few resources other than cashew nuts and fish, attracting South American drug cartels who have turned it into a hub of cocaine trafficking for West Africa.
The drug trade and the money it generates have corrupted all of Guinea-Bissau's public institutions and in particular the armed forces, whose senior officers are accused of involvement in trafficking.
The United States charged 2012 coup leader Antonio Indjai in April last year with drug trafficking and seeking to sell arms to Colombian insurgents, although he has not been extradited and remains in Bissau.
With law and order the number one concern, the candidate who has convinced the people of Guinea-Bissau that he can stand up to the generals and reform the armed forces looks likely to be anointed as the new president.
Vaz, the favourite and a member of the ruling African Party for the Independence of Guinea-Bissau and Cape Verde, has vowed to pursue “ongoing dialogue” with the army if he wins.
With a 40.9 percent share of the first round vote against Nabiam's 24.8 percent, the 57-year-old father-of-three is the establishment candidate.
Vaz, who made his fortune in construction, was a popular mayor of Bissau who gained plaudits for pushing through improvements to roads and sanitation, and he has led the country's chamber of commerce.
“I represent the whole of Guinea-Bissau in all its social components. And once elected, I will be the president of all of Guinea-Bissau, irrespective of ethnicity, religion or place of birth,” he told AFP.
He has pledged to accept the result if it goes in Nabiam's favour on Sunday.
“I'll be the first to congratulate him and wish him good luck if I lose,” he said.
Independent candidate Nabiam, an engineer, has campaigned as the “unifying” choice, capable of bringing stability to his country.
“Guinea-Bissau comes first above all else. I will therefore work to ensure the stability and unity of all Bissau-Guineans,” the 51-year-old said last month.
Nabiam trained in civil aviation in Russia before moving to the United States for 17 years.
He was appointed director of the country's civil aviation authority in 2012.
His wife said during the campaign he was a “quiet man who takes care of his family”.
The election will be the first since Indjai agreed in May 2012 to hand power to a civilian transitional regime headed by President Manuel Serifo Nhamadjo.
In Bissau's commercial district on Thursday, businessman Usmane Diop said: “All the investors have left. The next president needs to bear that in mind and work at that. He needs to guarantee stability and introduce a good justice system, otherwise no foreign investors will come here.” - Sapa-AFP