BISSAU Thousands of drum-beating supporters accompanied former finance minister Jose Mario Vaz, candidate of Guinea-Bissau's main PAIGC party, to register for next month's presidential elections at the Supreme Court on Wednesday.
Vaz, a former mayor of the capital Bissau, saw off several challengers at a congress on Sunday to win the nod from the African Party for the Independence of Guinea and Cape Verde (PAIGC), which has dominated politics in Guinea-Bissau since independence from Portugal in 1974.
Wednesday was the deadline for candidates for the April 13 presidential election to register at the Supreme Court, with 15 having done so already. The court now has one week to publish a list of valid candidates.
The long-delayed polls, originally scheduled for November, are designed to turn the page on an April 2012 military coup that toppled President Raimundo Pereira and Prime Minister Carlos Gomes Junior, a former leader of the PAIGC.
The coup came just days before a presidential runoff which Gomes Junior was widely expected to win. Vaz is regarded as close to Gomes Junior, having served as finance minister in his cabinet.
With the rival Party for Social Renewal (PRS) riven by infighting following the resignation of its leader Kumba Yala Kobde Nhanca, Vaz is widely seen as favorite to win next month's ballot but will then face the difficult task of pressing ahead with military reform.
The U.N. special representative to Guinea-Bissau has urged the Security Council to consider imposing sanctions against anyone who attempts to undermine the country's forthcoming election.
Guinea-Bissau, one of the world's poorest countries, has gained notoriety as a transit point in the smuggling of South American cocaine into Europe.
U.N. officials say, however, that smuggling has tailed off since 2012.
(Reporting by Alberto Dabo; Writing by Daniel Flynn; Editing by Emma Farge)