Saturday, May 17, 2014

Guinea-Bissau: Elections in Guinea-Bissau: will history repeat itself?

Source: ISS
Elections in Guinea-Bissau: will history repeat itself? 

Voir ci-dessous pour la version français

On 13 April, more than 80% of voters in Guinea-Bissau went to the polls, hoping to move on from the political instability and poverty that have come to characterise their country.

The final results were announced by the National Electoral Commission on 23 April, confirming the African Party for the Independence of Guinea and Cape Verde (PAIGC) as the leading political force, with 57 members out of 102 in the National People's Assembly.

The Social Renewal Party (SRP) has 41 representatives, the Democratic Convergence Party two and the New Democratic Party and the Union for Democratic Change each have one representative.

There will be a presidential run-off vote on Sunday, 18 May. José Mário Vaz of the PAIGC, who received 41% of the votes in the first round, will compete with Nuno Gomes Nabiam, who won 25% of votes. Nabiam is an independent candidate supported by the late former president Kumba Yalá and the Army Chief of Staff, General António Injai.

These results do not bode well for real political change in the country. The seeds of instability that were present two years ago are still there, and one wonders if these elections could truly meet the expectations of the citizens who want peace, security and stability.

The battle for power and the management of the resources between civilian and military authorities remains a huge concern. This has been an ongoing cause of instability and fragility during the transition period, despite the emergence of new political figures. After the military coup in April 2012, the army remained on the political scene and took advantage of weaknesses in transitional institutions to consolidate its position of power.

Beyond restoring constitutional order, the main challenge of these elections is thus for new leadership to end the political tensions between civilian and military authorities, and to curb the military’s interference in politics. However, the support for Nabiam by the Army Chief of Staff is reminiscent of the April 2012 coup.

Nabiam has won the favour of many supporters of the SRP, at the expense of the party's own candidate, Abel Lamedi Incada, who had received only 7,03% of the votes. On 18 May, Nabiam will face Vaz, who seems to have benefited from the ongoing frustration of civil servants who have been striking due to arrears in wages. Vaz is nicknamed ‘Homi di 25’ (meaning ‘the man of the 25th’ in Creole), since during his tenure as minister of finance, salaries were always paid by the 25th of the month. Indeed, he has benefited greatly from the image of a good manager that he acquired during his time in the finance department, and as the mayor of the capital, Bissau.

These two figures emerged during the post-coup transition, which brought about a renewal of the political class. This, along with the removal of the main protagonists of the 2012 elections, gave many citizens hope that change was imminent. Since its independence, presidents in Guinea-Bissau have always hailed from the two largest parties, the PAIGC and SRP, and always in collusion with the army.

However, even if new characters have emerged, the election results seem to indicate that this pattern will continue. Indeed, the 18 May run-off elections will see the squaring off of a candidate from the PAIGC and ‘the candidate of the army:’ the two traditional players. Whatever the outcome of the run-off, the two main actors, plus the Nabiam-supporting SRP, will remain at the centre stage of the political system.

If Vaz wins, the PAIGC – which already has a majority in the National People’s Assembly – will have full control of the two main bodies. In this scenario, the PAIGC would have to face the army, whose prominent members may fear lawsuits and reforms that could undermine its interests. The army could therefore meddle in political affairs and disrupt government action.

If Nabiam were to win, he would have to work with the PAIGC, which has a majority of representatives in the National People’s Assembly. The semi-presidential system in Guinea-Bissau – which involves the sharing of executive power between the prime minister, appointed by the parliamentary majority, and the president – has led to rivalries even when the two hailed from the same party. This could continue to be a problem, especially if the two actors are from opposing political parties.

The ‘vicious trio’ of the army, prime minister and president is likely to remain a source of instability if reforms are not initiated and carried out effectively. The resurgence of a political crisis and the possibility of a new coup, as mentioned in the most recent edition of the Institute for Security Studies’ ECOWAS Peace and Security Report, cannot be completely ruled out.

True change in Guinea-Bissau can only be driven by the reconciliation of political and military actors, and the establishment of a joint framework for permanent dialogue to implement much-needed political, economic and security reforms.

The country’s newly elected authorities will therefore have to initiate broad dialogue between all the national stakeholders to define priorities. Additionally, the military should be involved in the reform of the defence and security sector, from conception through to implementation. Though rightly perceived to be part of the problem, the army should also be considered part of the solution.

Finally, a peaceful political climate and a real desire for change from the new authorities would be needed before the support of the international community can be effective.

Although external actors provided logistical, financial and technical support to facilitate a credible and peaceful electoral process, the situation could be worsened if their favoured candidate doesn’t win the runoff. Regardless of the outcome of the 18 May elections, international actors who supported the electoral process must continue in this direction to ensure the implementation of the reforms that Guinea-Bissau so badly needs.

Paulin Maurice Toupane, Junior Researcher, Conflict Prevention and Risk Analysis Division, ISS Dakar