Lower turnout in second round of presidential election

There was a lower turnout in the second round of Guinea-Bissau's presidential election on Sunday, but voting took place peacefully and in good order according to observers.

Malam Mane, the chairman of the National Electoral Commission, said the provisional result would probably be announced on Tuesday or Wednesday.

The poll was a run-off between Malam Bacai Sanha, the official candidate of the ruling African Party for the Independence of Guinea-Bissau and Cape Verde (PAIGC), who won 35.5 percent of the vote the first round of the election on 19 June, and former military ruler Joao Bernardo "Nino" Vieira, who came second with 28.9 percent.

Johann Van Hecke, a Belgian member of the European Parliament who is leading the European Union's 80-strong force of election monitors, gave an early seal of approval to the way polling had been conducted.

"Generally the elections were well organised. The only thing we regret is a lower turnout of voters at the polling stations than in the first round in most regions of the country," he told reporters on Sunday afternoon.

There was an exceptionally high turnout of 87 percent in the first round of the presidential election.

Elections are due to complete Guinea-Bissau's return to constitutional rule following the overthrow of former president Kumba Yala in a bloodless coup in September 2003.

The PAIGC emerged as the largest party in parliament in legislative elections held in March 2004, with Yala's Social Renovation Party (PRS) in second place.

Yala himself was forced to drop out of the presidential election after coming third in the first round of voting. He then threw his support behind Vieira, who seized power in a 1980 coup and ruled Guinea-Bissau until he was forced to quit power in 1999 during the latter stages of a civil war.

Bacai Sanha and Vieira both said on Sunday that they were confident of victory as they cast their votes in the capital Bissau.

But the UN special envoy to Guinea Bissau, former Mozambican president Joaquim Chissano, urged both candidates to accept "the verdict of the Guinean people expressed through the ballot box."

Interim President Henrique Rosa said the winner of the election should stay closely in tune with grass roots feeling so that this small West African country, which has experienced a civil war and two coups over the past eight years, achieves stability and starts to rebuild its shattered economy.

"I am a man who has always lived close to the people and this is what the politicians of Guinea-Bissau must learn," said Rosa, a respected businessman who organised the first multi-party election in this former Portuguese colony in 1994.

"Above all, the future president must learn to be a man of the people, with a feeling for what the people feel, what the people think, what the people need and what can lead them towards development," he added.

The only minor upset in voting occurred in the coastal Tombal district 80 km southeast of Bissau, where voting began six hours late following a series of logistical problems in getting election materials to the polling stations on time.