Overcoming the deadlock in Guinea-Bissau

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Guinea-Bissau is set to hold parliamentary elections in 2018, but if the current political stalemate is not resolved this is likely to further divide the political actors and create conditions in which the results could be contested. Instead, follow-up consultations within the Conakry process should be held to implement reforms and agreement should be reached on an electoral calendar.

In August 2015 President José Mário Vaz dismissed Prime Minister Domingos Simões Pereira, president of the African Party for the Independence of Guinea and Cape Verde (PAIGC). Guinea-Bissau was once again plunged into political instability. This came in the wake of the optimism that followed the April 2014 elections, which should serve as a reminder that a successful election alone is not a guarantee of post-election political stability.

Mediation by the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) has led to the October 2016 Conakry Agreement, which was signed by the main political actors.

Despite threats of individual sanctions against political actors and the withdrawal of the ECOWAS military force (ECOMIB) agreed upon at the Monrovia summit in June 2017, the provisions of the Conakry Agreement have not been implemented. As the deadlock persists and the deadline for the 2018 legislative elections looms, it is imperative that those responsible for the current political crisis be held accountable, to continue with consultations (initially held in Bissau, then in Conakry), and to find a consensual way out of the crisis that will allow much-needed priority reforms to be implemented. The organisation of elections cannot be considered a lasting solution to this crisis, which should be analysed in the context of the country’s recurrent political instability.

Persistent deadlock

The failure to implement the Conakry Agreement is the result of a major disagreement about the nomination of the prime minister following the Conakry talks led by the ECOWAS mediator, Guinean President Alpha Condé. In an interview with Radio France International in November 2017, President Condé said that a decision on a consensual Prime Minister had been reached, out of the three possible candidates - João Mamado Aladje Fadiá, Umaro Sissoco Embaló and Augusto Olivais – submitted by President Vaz.

The appointment of Umaro Sissoco Embaló - instead of the agreed Augusto Olivais - by the president, supported by the Social Renewal Party (PRS) and the group of 15 dissident MPs of the PAIGC, in November 2016 was not in line with the Conakry Agreement.

The PAIGC, the Democratic Convergence Party and the Union for Change, as well as representatives of civil society, have since contested this appointment, and have refused to participate in his government. Like former prime ministers Carlos Correia and Baçiro Djà, Sissoco has been unable to get the National Assembly to vote on his government agenda and budget, because of the blockage by the PAIGC.

The continuation of the Sissoco government, despite the constitutional deadline for the adoption of its programme by MPs having expired and international pleas for the implementation of the Conakry Agreement, has aggravated political tensions.

Legislative elections: cure or poison?

The mandate of the National Assembly ends in May 2018, and legislative elections are to be organised in the same year. In theory, these legislative elections could clarify the political game by leading to the emergence of a parliamentary majority and the formation of a legitimate government. This would also prevent the National People’s Assembly’s mandate from expiring and Vaz from standing as the only actor with democratic legitimacy. His mandate ends in 2019. In reality, holding an election without the current political crisis having been resolved is likely to further divide an already polarised political class and create conditions conducive to the contestations of its results.

The Collective of Democratic Opposition Parties, which has been demonstrating for months, demanding the implementation of the Conakry Agreement, has specified that no election should be organised by the Sissoco government, which it considers illegitimate. This position is also determined by the role played by the Ministry of Territorial Administration in the electoral process, through the Technical Support Office for the Electoral Process (GTAPE). This entity is responsible for voter registration and the establishment of the electoral register, hence the mistrust by the opposition.

Moreover, the stalemate in the National Assembly risks undermining the normal functioning of the National Electoral Commission (CNE). A key institution in charge of organising and supervising electoral processes in Guinea-Bissau, the CNE depends on the National Assembly for the management of it budget, as well as the appointment of its president and the members of its executive secretariat. Overcoming the parliamentary deadlock therefore seems decisive for holding elections.

Even in a best-case scenario, where parliamentary elections are held despite the institutional crisis and then lead to a clarification of the political game, the risk of a relapse into crisis remains high. This is because the major weaknesses and shortcomings of the institutional architecture are yet to be resolved.

If the current crisis has had such a devastating impact on state institutions, it is partly because of the inadequacy and vagueness of the constitutional provisions governing the semi-presidential system in Guinea-Bissau. This further highlights the need to implement reforms that have been scheduled for several years, including a revision of the constitution and the electoral framework.

There is 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 the various powers. There are also many political and civil society actors who advocate revisions to the electoral laws as required by the CNE report drafted after the 2014 general elections.

The necessity of continuing consultations

To find a solution to the deadlock, an additional round of consultations is needed, following the inclusive talks of 2016. This must be done in the spirit that guided the Conakry process. It must thus be inclusive and consensual, placing emphasis on the importance of implementing the major reforms that the country needs.

In these consultations, ECOWAS, supported by the other international actors of the five groupings involved in the peace process in Guinea-Bissau (African Union, United Nations, European Union and Community of Portuguese Speaking Countries), should adopt a more directive and firm stance. The continuation of the crisis, in spite of the efforts of national and international actors, clearly shows certain key players’ lack of interest in stabilising the country.

The authorities have not been able to find a consensus solution, despite the three months granted by ECOWAS and threats of individual sanctions. As such there is little hope for goodwill, and for political actors’ being able to go beyond their self-interests. ECOWAS’ failure to respond after the deadline for the implementation of the agreement had expired is also unlikely to encourage the actors to honour their commitments.

The ECOWAS summit to be held on 16 December in Abuja is an opportunity for the regional organisation's leadership to consolidate its position. Its credibility is at stake. Such a follow-up consultation – which should not elevate the president over other stakeholders, as he is a protagonist in the crisis – should lead to the establishment of a consensus mission government with the support of the main political forces of the country. This government should include a substantial number of competent technocrats and individuals who are as apolitical as possible within the current context.

Finally, this process should define, on a consensual basis, an electoral calendar that allows for the adoption of specific priority reforms before the legislative elections. The coupling of legislative and presidential elections in 2019, which would allow more time for the necessary reforms, should also be considered.

Ultimately, such a process should be guided not only by the urgent need to end the current political crisis but also by the desire to create the economic, social and political conditions that will provide lasting structural responses to the chronic instability that has characterised Guinea-Bissau since its independence.