By Albert Dabo
BISSAU (Reuters) – Two former Guinea-Bissau prime ministers advanced on Wednesday to a presidential run-off vote, the electoral commission said, with incumbent Jose Mario Vaz finishing a distant fourth after a tenure marked by infighting and corruption scandals.
Domingos Simoes Pereira finished first with 40% and Umaro Cissoko Embalo came second with 28% in the Nov. 24 first-round poll, commission president Jose Pedro Sambu told reporters.
Because neither passed the 50% of votes required to win the presidency outright, they will face off in a second round on Dec. 29.
“The elections were just, free and transparent,” Pereira, 56, told reporters at his party’s headquarters. “We are satisfied with the results. I salute Umaro Embalo Cissoko, my second round opponent, whom I respect.”
Pereira campaigned as a moderniser whose promise to bolster health and education made him popular with younger voters in Bissau. Embalo, 47, also served as prime minister under Vaz from 2016-18.
There was no immediate reaction to the results from Vaz’s camp. The 61-year-old president, who has governed the tiny West African country since 2014, only received 12% of the vote.
On election day, voters said they were weary of protracted feuding between Vaz and the majority party in parliament, which has seen him cycle through seven different prime ministers.
Critics say Vaz failed to control corruption or the flow of drugs through forested islands off the coast of the cashew-producing country.
Bissau has intercepted over 2.5 tonnes of cocaine this year believed en route from South America to Europe.
Pereira was Vaz’s first prime minister before being sacked in 2015, which touched off the current dispute between the president and Pereira’s African Party for the Independence of Guinea and Cape Verde (PAIGC).
In the latest salvo, Vaz fired Prime Minister Aristides Gomes on Oct. 29 and appointed a successor.
But Gomes refused to step down and Vaz finally backed down under international pressure.
The political instability has hurt the economy, which depends heavily on volatile prices for cashew nuts, the main income source for over two-thirds of households.
(Writing by Alessandra Prentice and Aaron Ross; Editing by Edward McAllister and Andrew Cawthorne)