Guinea Bissau in power vacuum after president's term ends

Wednesday June 26 2019

Guinea-Bissau's President José Mário Vaz greets

Guinea-Bissau's President José Mário Vaz greets Kenya's President Uhuru Kenyatta while on a State visit in Kenya. Guinea Bissau has been plunged into a power vacuum after President Vaz term ended on June 23. He now wants the term extended until elections on November 24 or he will not appoint a new government under Aristides Gomes. PHOTO | FILE | NATION MEDIA GROUP.  

ARNALDO VIEIRA
By ARNALDO VIEIRA
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Guinea Bissau has been plunged into a power vacuum after the president's term ended on Sunday without a government in place despite the naming of Aristides Gomes as prime minister.

President José Mário Vaz is now blackmailing Parliament to extend his reign until November 24 when elections are scheduled in exchange for him approving a new government to run the country.

“José Mário Vaz wants to have full powers until the very end,” a party insider told e-global a news website.

Coming soon after the President bullied Parliament to drop his rival Domingos Simões Pereira as prime minister, the term extension from June 23 puts Vaz at par with other African leaders who have sought to hang on to power by hook and crook.

Shielded from international scrutiny by Guinea Bissau's relative insignificance in geopolitics - nearly 70 per cent of its two million people live in squalor - the political crisis has rumbled on since 2015 when President Vaz sacked Pereira as prime minister.

Differences in the ruling African Party for the Independence of Guinea and Cape Verde (PAIGC) meant Parliament did not sit for close to two years until April 2018 when Gomes also came in as a concensus prime minister.

That three protagonists come from the party would be expected to smoothen political transitions. It has not as President Vaz delayed inviting the party to name a prime minister who would then form a government.

Under the country's constitution, the President has to approve both.

With protests growing since last month over delays in forming the government, President Vaz last week asked the party to name a prime minister. It picked Mr Pereira who the president was not comfortable with.

"I beg you to propose another name," the President said in a communication to Parliament on June 17 without stating what was wrong with the nomination of Pereira.

On June 20, West African regional bloc ECOWAS stepped in giving President Vaz three days to end the impasse leading to the reappointment of Gomes

"The most urgent challenge is to form a government able to take the country out of the institutional decay under President Vaz. He always acted contrary to the constitution,” Mr Lesmes Monteiro, an activist told DW Radio.

During his five year term, seven prime ministers have served under President Vaz who appears uncomfortable with politicians who could upstage him in popularity.

“His image is consumed internationally and he is someone with interest in people who don’t win elections repeatedly,” Mr Monteiro said.

In February last year, ECOWAS imposed travel restrictions and froze the bank accounts of 19 people in Guinea Bissau it deemed responsible for the crisis but the move did not have an impact.

Mr Gomes handed a list of his Cabinet but President Vaz is yet to make the appointments.

Mr Muniro Conte, the Prime Ministes adviser said president José Mário Vaz was yet to act on the nominations.

Following the end of his term, President Vaz's powers are now limited raising questions on the formation of any government now.

That has not deterred Mr Gomes, a French-trained sociologist, from promising to push through the party's governing programme.

“I see this function as a PAIGC mission,” he said on his swearing in on Monday.

PAIGC won legislative elections on March 10 with 47 of 102 parliamentary seats and has to form a coalition government.

The party accuses José Mário Vaz’s regime of being insensitive to the suffering of the people.

"We will maintain our democratic fight so that we can weed out people’s enemies through the ballot," the party said in a social media post.

President Vaz was the first in 25 years of democracy to see through his term with the country having seen nine coups, including attempted ones, since 1980.
In his farewell speech, he said he fought for the country’s democracy and stability and consolidation.
That is a legacy which the Movement of Conscious and Unsubmissive Citizens which has been demonstrating to demand Vaz leaves the presidential palace doubts.

After their protests were barred by police, they demanded that the Parliament speaker becomes the interim president until the elections.

“There is no constitutional norm backing an outgoing president to hold power until a new one is sworn in," the movement said.

Situated between Senegal and Guinea in West Africa, the $3.2 billion economy is highly dependent on cashew nut exports and foreign assistance.

It has a high potential for development of mineral sands, phosphates and bauxite while offshore exploration of oil and gas has begun.

With its arable land and equatorial climate a wide variety of cash crops, fruits, vegetables, and tubers can flourish.

It is currently on an IMF extended credit facility but its key budget support from the African Development Bank, European Union and the World Bank has been suspended indefinitely over the political situation.

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