4 May 2018

Guinea Bissau: Overriding Personal Interest, Constitutional Lapses

Guinea Bissau's latest political crisis stems from disagreements between President José Mario Vaz and then PM Domingos Simões Pereira.

In less than 45 years of independence from Portugal after 11 years of bloody liberation struggle, Guinea Bissau, a tiny nation on the West African coast with just under 2 million people, has had its fair share of political instability. Coup d'états, coup attempts, assassinations, civil war, etc, have virtually become the normal trend of political life in the poverty-stricken nation.

The latest crisis began in 2015 when President José Mario Vaz sacked Prime Minister Domingos Simões Pereira. However, parliamentarians of the ruling African Party for the Independence of Guinea and Cape Verde, PAIGC, and the President - who belong to the same party - could not agree on a new candidate. Diplomatic sources say the squabbles between Vaz and Domingos started over the use of 1.5 billion US dollars (808 billion FCFA) in international aid money.

A few months after, the President, under the semi-presidential system of government, sacked Domingos. However, ruling party MPs sided with the sacked PM and a stalemate ensued, with the two sides unable to agree on a replacement. Vaz appointed several PMs, but they all failed to gain the support of political parties. PAIGC, which won majority of parliamentary seats in the last elections, argued that they had the right to approve the best candidate for prime minister. But Vaz refused to appoint their nominee. Some 15 PAIGC dissident parliamentarians rallied behind the President, but this did not help matters.

Earlier this year, the West African regional bloc, ECOWAS, imposed sanctions on the country. And after its mediation, President Vaz appointed Aristides Gomes as consensual PM on April 17, 2018. Gomes, a PAIGC central committee member who was Prime Minister from 2005-2007, is to lead the country until legislative elections rescheduled for November 2018. The appointment was in fulfilment of an earlier ECOWAS-brokered deal to end the crisis that was never implemented.

Following Gomes' appointment, Parliament resumed sitting on April 19, 2018 after nearly two years of interruption. The special session is to debate, amongst others, the extension of MPs' mandate - which expired on April 23, 2018. Elected in 2014, President Vaz's tenure ends in 2020. Meanwhile, observers have warned that in spite of the recent denouement, risks of relapse into conflict remain high. This is because the major weaknesses and shortcomings of the institutional architecture are yet to be resolved.

The recent crisis had such a devastating impact on state institutions partly because of the inadequacies and vagueness of the constitutional provisions on the semi-presidential system of government. There is therefore urgent need for reforms that have been put on hold for several years. These include revision of the constitution and the electoral framework. There is also broad consensus on the need to clarify important parts of the constitution, including the organisation and functioning of political power, as well as the relationship between various powers.

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