Former president Kumba Yala has formally applied to run in Guinea Bissau’s presidential elections next June, shrugging aside the fact he was banned from politics following his overthrow in 2003.
Yala on Monday put in an application with the Supreme Court to run in the 19 June race, saying: “No law can ban my candidacy.”
Elected president with a landslide majority in 2000, Yala was removed three years later in a bloodless coup after dismissing parliament, missing his own election deadlines and leaving the government almost bankrupt.
Coup leader General Verissimo Correia Seabra, who has since been assassinated, handed over power at the time to a transition government which drew up a charter to return the former Portuguese colony to full democracy within two years.
Under the charter, Yala was banned from active politics or seeking re-election until 2008.
But last month the main opposition group, the Social Renovation Party (PRS) chose him as its presidential candidate.
As he handed in the official papers on Monday, Yala said that his agreement in 2003 to stick to the ban had no legal value because he had signed it in his home rather than in his office. “I am free to run as a candidate.”
The ban could be lifted if a disputed amnesty law that is before parliament is approved when it comes up for discussion in May.
Yala is not the only controversial figure cited as a front-runner in the race to run the turbulent country of 1.3 million people.
Last week, former president Joao Bernardo "Nino" Vieira returned after six years in exile to a hero’s welcome but failed to say whether or not he too aimed to stand despite a ban.
The draft law would grant a blanket amnesty to all those accused of abuse of power, including corruption, illegal detention, torture and extra-judicial killings, from November 1980, when Vieira seized power, until October 2004, when Correia Seabra was killed by unidentified supporters of the present military high command.
Yala and his party, the PRS, retain a strong following among the Balanta, Guinea-Bissau's largest ethnic group. It accounts for 35 percent of the population and forms the backbone of the army.
Vieira, who belongs to the small Papel ethnic group, after his 1980 seizure of power took over the leadership of the former liberation movement that fought a guerrilla war against colonial rule, the African Party for the Independence of Guinea-Bissau and Cape Verde (PAIGC).
The international community has expressed concern that the comeback of the two figures from the past could endanger the future peace and stability of this extremely poor country, whose main export is cashew nuts.
Ahmedou Ould Abdallah, the UN Secretary General's Special Representative to West Africa, noted in a statement issued on 29 March that political tensions in the country were increasing.
"He strongly urges all key political stakeholders, in particular former high officials, to resist the temptation of political manipulation on ethnic and religious grounds. He appeals to them to refrain from any action that could divide the country, the army and its institutions," the statement said.