What's In Blue

Posted Thu 3 Apr 2014

Briefing by Political Affairs Head on Guinea-Bissau Elections

In consultations this morning under “Any Other Business”, the Council expects to receive a briefing from Under-Secretary General for Political Affairs Jeffrey Feltman on preparations for presidential and legislative elections in Guinea-Bissau, which are scheduled for 13 April. The elections, meant to restore a democratically elected government following the 12 April 2012 coup, have been already postponed twice from their previously scheduled November 2013 and March 2014 dates. For the briefing, which was initiated by the Department of Political Affairs (DPA), members will be particularly interested in whether there are any signs that the elections might be postponed once again, and the prospects of interference by spoilers. There is interest from some members in having a press statement but at press time it was unclear if there was consensus on issuing one following the briefing.

Preparations for the elections, since their last postponement, appear to have been on track. The voter registration was concluded in early February with a total of 775,508 voters registered, representing approximately 95 percent of the estimated eligible voting population in Guinea-Bissau and diaspora. In mid-March, the Supreme Court released a list of the 15 political parties eligible for participation in the legislative elections and the 13 presidential candidates, five of whom are running as independents. Also there had been concerns over infighting within the largest party, the African Party for the Independence of Guinea and Cape Verde (PAIGC), but it seems that these divisions are now mostly resolved. On 22 March, the 21-day official electoral campaign began.

A major concern is whether the military, in particular General Antonio Indjai, will refrain from interference. While the Chief of Staff of the Armed Forces has made announcements about ensuring the security of the elections, there are also indicators that he is anxious about the prospect of a PAIGC victory. A particularly troubling incident was the abduction of a parliamentarian candidate for the Social Renewal Party (PRS), Mário Fambé, who was on 20 March held at the military headquarters in Amura, Bissau. Fambé, who backs the official PRS presidential candidate, was allegedly campaigning in an area that traditionally supports the retired PRS leader Kumba Yala. Yala is supporting independent candidate Nuno Gomes Nabiam, who Indjai also backs. After efforts by various interlocutors, Fambe was released on 21 April, but was hospitalised from beatings while detained. Members will likely be interested in learning more about this incident, and whether it represents a more isolated act of intimidation, or the prospects of greater military interference.

It seems that several Council members would like for the Council to issue a press statement following the briefing that sends the message to actors on the ground that the Council is following developments in Guinea-Bissau closely, and reinforces its position that elections should not be delayed nor interfered with. Additionally, a statement would reiterate the Council’s support for the UN Integrated Peacebuilding Mission in Guinea-Bissau (UNIOGBIS) and Special Representative of the Secretary General Jose Ramos-Horta. The idea apparently has the backing of a number of members including Australia, France, Lithuania, Luxembourg, the UK and the US. On the other hand, Nigeria, the penholder on Guinea-Bissau, appears to view a press statement as currently unnecessary since overall progress towards holding the elections for 13 April is going well. At press time, no draft had been distributed and it seems that the decision to issue a press statement would be made based on the content of Feltman’s briefing, and if most Council members support the idea for doing so and if DPA requests one. (The Council last issued a press statement on Guinea-Bissau following the briefing and consultations on Guinea-Bissau on 26 February with Ramos-Horta (SC/11299) that recalled elements from its 9 December 2013 presidential statement, which called for timely and fair elections and warned potential spoilers of targeted sanctions.)

On 1 April, the Peacebuilding Commission’s country-specific-configuration for Guinea-Bissau issued a press statement that welcomed progress towards the elections and called for Guinea-Bissau to keep to the 13 April electoral date, but expressed concerns about political violence and intimidation. The election also figured prominently in the 44th summit of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), which met on 28-29 March 2014. The final communiqué of the summit, directed ECOWAS to take all necessary additional measures to ensure peaceful, free and fair elections, and appealed for international assistance to ensure a successful conclusion.