Northern Ireland

Vote was fair say NI election observers

Ian Paisley
Image caption DUP MP Ian Paisley is an unpaid mediator in the country's peace process

A team of election observers from Northern Ireland has said a presidential vote in the West African state of Guinea-Bissau was fair.

DUP MP Ian Paisley, Seamus Magee from the Electoral Commission and former Assistant Chief Constable of the PSNI Duncan McCausland were part of an official election observation mission.

They were in the country to watch voting and counting for the post of president which became vacant in January.

Carlos Gomez, one of nine candidates, secured 49% of the poll but since he did not gain more than 50% there must now be a run-off vote.

Former president Kumba Yala who came second with 23% has claimed the first round of voting was unfair.

He told the BBC: "This election wasn't fair - the numbers were fabricated."

However, Seamus Magee from the Electoral Commission in Belfast who travelled across Guinea - Bissau said he was satisfied that the election was conducted properly.

He visited 17 polling stations and was impressed with how the vote was organised and how the counting took place in voting centres after the ballot had closed. He said the counting was filmed by the media and the results were announced "quickly and accurately".

Fragile democracy

Observers from the African Union also declared that the poll had been "free, fair and transparent", although they did raise concerns about the use of a 2008 voters' register which excluded new voters.

Voting passed off peacefully. However, a former director of military intelligence was shot dead by men in military dress as he sat on the terrace of a restaurant. Violence has dominated much of the country's recent history.

Image caption The queue to vote in Guinea-Bissau

Since becoming independent from Portugal in 1974, the country has witnessed a civil war, a dictatorship and three coups. None of the previous democratically elected leaders has ever finished a term in office.

The country's last president was Malam Bacai Sanha who died in January after a long illness. In this most recent poll, nine candidates stood in a country regarded as one of Africa's most fragile democracies.

Former PSNI Assistant Chief Constable Duncan McCausland said: "The whole country requires stability."

The ex-police chief believes there are similarities between the West African state and Northern Ireland. He told the BBC: "There are parallels with what we went through".

The retired officer was invited to make the journey by North Antrim MP Ian Paisley.

The DUP politician who has been interested in Guinea-Bissau for a number of years was asked to become an unpaid mediator in the country's peace process. The initiative is being backed by the European Union and the United Nations.

The better part of valour

He is to chair peace talks later this year and said he has "a real passion to see Guinea-Bissau settled".

His most recent trip to the country did not go without incident.

Anxious to observe voting on one of the offshore islands, the MP was told to report to a grass runway where a plane would transport him.

Image caption Casting a vote in the presidential election

However, when he discovered the plane had not been used in about three years and was told a wheel had fallen off, he declined this mode of transport. He told the BBC: "I decided discretion was the better part of valour and would certainly not be going up in that plane".

He believes the presidential poll marks a turning point in the country's history.

The North Antrim MP and the other observers from Northern Ireland are expected to return to Guinea- Bissau next month when the election will be re-run.