BISSAU, Guinea-Bissau -- Bissau-Guineans voted Sunday in a highly anticipated election to fill Guinea-Bissau's national legislature, more than a year after the West African nation's president dissolved parliament.
Nearly 1 million voters were registered to elect more than 100 lawmakers from six parties with active seats in the National People’s Assembly, according to the Centre for Democracy and Development, an African human rights organization.
Guinea-Bissau is a small nation that gained independence from Portugal nearly five decades ago. The country has endured continued political turmoil, including multiple coups, since then.
President Umaro Sissoco Embalo, a former army general, took office after he was declared the winner of a December 2019 runoff election. He survived a February 2022 coup attempt when assailants armed with machine guns and AK-47s attacked the government palace.
Since assuming office, Embalo has cracked down on civic freedoms, while government bodies have lost significant independence, according to analysts. He dissolved the parliament in May 2022 and postponed the legislative election scheduled for the following December.
Lucia Bird Ruiz Benitez de Lugo, director of the West Africa Observatory at the Global Initiative Against Transnational Organized Crime, said that Embalo has consolidated his grip on power since his controversial inauguration in February 2020.
"These elections are key in determining how much support the ruling party retains in parliament,” she said. "They will shape how isolated, or otherwise, the president, who has strained relations with the powerful military, will be during the remaining 18 months of his tenure."
Polls opened early Sunday with more than 3,500 voting stations expected in the country and the diaspora. This is the country's seventh legislative election since opening a multi-party system nearly three decades ago.
Citizens hope this vote will help set the country on the right path.
“This is a decisive election for the country, given the situation in which the country finds itself at the moment. Everyone is witness to the difficulties experienced," voter Justino dos Santos Leguissimo said.
Others were thankful that they were able to vote at all.
“Today is a very special day for all Guineans, because we have finally come to exercise our civic rights again,” said Eunice Mafalda Lopes Queita Esteves, who cast her vote.
Results from Sunday's election were expected to be contested after the results are announced in the coming days.
Sam Mednick reported from Dakar, Senegal.
Follow all of AP's coverage from Africa at https://apnews.com/hub/africa