Koumba Yala is a product of Bissaun democratization, which was a reaction to the sometimes well-intentioned, but corrupt and inept, PAIGC regimes, dating back to 1974. Luis Cabral, Guinea-Bissau's first president, was widely perceived as having mismanaged the economy. His regime squandered state resources on inappropriate large-scale development projects while periodic droughts and neglect of the agriculture resulted in scarcity of rice, the staple food of Guinea-Bissau. Hence, the 1980 ousting of Cabral became known as the "rice coup." Global recession and declining terms of trade added to Guinea-Bissau's dependency on donors. This dependency stemmed in no small part from the colonial experience and war of liberation, which left Guinea-Bissau with little capacity, almost no infrastructure or industry, and an undereducated population.
Cabral's policies angered the military and served as the catalyst or spark for the coup. As part of the demobilization scheme following the war for independence, Cabral planned to ship ex-soldiers to farms in remote parts of the country. He also attempted to introduce a new ranking system for the military. Both of these plans proved to be unpopular with the uniformed forces. Cabral also proposed constitutional changes, which would lead to the unification of Guinea-Bissau with Cape Verde and strengthen the power of the president at the expense of the prime minister. These changes angered black Guineans who feared domination by the mixed-race and better-educated Cape Verdeans, which included President Cabral.
A coup led by Major Vieira on 15 November 1980 cost the lives of two senior government officials. Several government officials were abroad and President Cabral was vacationing at his home in the Bijagós Islands, where he was placed under house arrest. Cabral was later exiled to Cuba after Vieira and his forces discovered the bodies of more than 500 political prisoners who had been executed during Cabral's six-year reign. Cabral was allowed to return to Guinea-Bissau December 1999. Many Guineans welcomed the coup and celebrated the promise of better living conditions.
Although President Vieira was a reluctant champion of political reform, the advent of democracy across Africa gave him few options. The constitution underwent extensive amendment, a national conference to determine the country's future took place, and opposition parties were authorized. In Guinea-Bissau's first multi-party elections in July and August 1994, President Vieira narrowly beat Koumba Yala, 52% to 48%. The vote was considered reasonably free and fair despite Yala's protestations.
In March 1998, an independent electoral commission was established. Vieira's fall in April–May 1999 and his subsequent exile ushered in an interim government led by Malam Bacai Sanha. A second set of multi-party elections for the National Assembly and presidency, in which 12 candidates competed, were organized. In the 28 November 1999 round, Koumba Yala scored 38.5% to Sanha's 23.4%. In December 1999, during the runoff campaign, Yala was outside the country receiving medical treatment in Portugal but returned in time to stage a well-executed campaign. In the 16 January 2000 run-off, he swept 72% of the vote. In the Assembly elections, Yala's PRS party took 38 of 102 seats. The Resist-encia da Guinea-Bissau-Movimento Bafata took 28 while the PAIGC managed 24 seats. Five other parties captured the remaining 12 seats.