Elections likely to be postponed again

Guinea Bissau's belated legislative elections that were due to take place on 6 July are "technically not feasible" due to inadequate funding and failure to complete updating voter registers in time, diplomats said.

"There are problems mainly with funding and this is not likely to change soon," a diplomatic source in the capital, Bissau told IRIN by phone on Friday. "Donors are insisting on economic and political reforms before they can support the electoral process."

The Portuguese news agency, Lusa, quoted the National Electoral Commission spokesman, Filomeno Lobo de Pina, as saying that holding the elections on 6 July was "technically impossible" because the process of updating voter registers had not been completed.

Initially scheduled for February, the polls were postponed to 20 April to allow for updating of voters registers from 17 April to 6 May, a key demand of the opposition and the international community.

The leader of the opposition Socialist Alliance of Guinea-Bissau, Fernando Gomez, also told Radio France International (RFI) that conditions were not in place for elections. "One can no longer say that the people live in poverty," Gomez told RFI on Wednesday. "They live in abject misery. Guinea-Bissau has never experienced such a deep economic crisis [and] unprecedented instability...workers have not been paid for seven months."

But Guinea-Bissau's defense minister, Filomena Tipote, told Portuguese television on Wednesday that civil servants were being paid. The bigger concern with the polls, she added, was the means to finance the process.

President Kumba Yala, won elections in 2000, dissolved parliament and installed a caretaker government in November 2002, accusing parliament of sabotage. He then called early elections. But the country has since been entangled in political and economic crisis with Yala dismissing several ministers and top officials.

Last month, the government nearly collapsed after the army complained against the 21 April dismissal and arrest of defense minister, Marcelino Lopes Cabral. This prompted Yala to hold crisis talks with disgruntled military chiefs and key ministers on 7 May.

Guinea-Bissau is a small poor country of 1.2 million on the West African coast. Armed conflict in 1998-99, the World Bank says, left substantial infrastructure in ruins and resulted in a deepening of already widespread poverty. "The country's macroeconomic performance has fallen short of expectations. In 2001, no economic growth was recorded due to weak demand associated with the fall of cashew exports prices and a sizable loss of foreign assistance," the Bank said.