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Dispatches from the Field: Meetings in Guinea-Bissau on the Political Crisis

Bissau (7 March) – Security Council members were in Guinea-Bissau today for the third day of their visiting mission to West Africa. They arrived later than expected as their plane was diverted to Dakar due to heavy fog. As a result meetings with the leadership of the UN Integrated Peacebuilding Office in Guinea-Bissau (UNIOGBIS), the diplomatic corps in Guinea-Bissau and civil society had to be cancelled.

Guinea-Bissau has been in a political crisis since August last year when President José Màrio Vaz dismissed the government of Prime Minister Domingos Simões Pereira. More recently, an impasse in the National Assembly has further escalated tensions, impeding decision-making and the ability to govern, and threatening to reverse progress made after the elections in 2014 restored constitutional order. The impasse in the National Assembly, which has pitted Vaz against his own party, was at the heart of today’s meetings, with members delivering the central message that the disputants should resolve the situation through dialogue and in line with Guinea-Bissau’s laws and the constitution.

Today’s meetings began at the government palace. Council members met with Prime Minister Carlos Correia and members of his government, established last autumn to replace that of Simões Pereira. Meetings then continued at the National Assembly, with the Council meeting first its President, Cipriano Cassamá. This was followed by a meeting with leaders of the majority African Party for the Independence of Guinea and Cape Verde (PAIGC), which included Domingos Simões Pereira who is the PAIGC President. Members then met leaders of the main opposition Party for Social Renewal (PRS). The day concluded with the Council going to the Presidential Palace to meet with Vaz.

The consistent message from Correia, Cassamá and Sim&3245es Pereira was that the political crisis is a result of actions by Vaz. The current impasse in the National Assembly began on 23 December when 15 parliamentarians from the PAIGC abstained on the vote on the national programme of the Correia government, preventing its adoption. The 15 members of parliament were subsequently expelled from the PAIGC, and a parliamentary commission ruled that they should lose their seats and new PAIGC representatives be appointed. The future of these 15 members, who have the support of Vaz, has not been resolved. To add to the uncertainty, a regional court has issued two contradictory decisions on the legality of the decision of the parliamentary commission. Correia and Cassamá both highlighted and explained the country’s laws which they said justify the parliamentary commission’s decision.

Cassamá criticised Vaz for seeking more power than was acceptable in a semi-presidential system, and alleged that Vaz was concerned that a recent parliamentary commission established to investigate his allegations of corruption within the previous Simões Pereira government would instead reveal wrongdoing on his part or by his supporters. Cassamõ additionally claimed that political interference had led to the recent decision by the regional court that the expulsion of the 15 MPs was not legal – a reversal of its initial decision.

Simões Pereira for his part stressed that the PAIGC is willing to engage in dialogue and compromise. He highlighted that the PAIGC, despite having won the elections in 2014 with a majority, had established an inclusive government which had included the opposition PRS and others. However, he stressed that abiding by the country’s laws and decisions of the courts needed to be the baseline for negotiations. He also emphasised that the PAIGC rejected the negotiating framework established by Vaz, where meetings have included the 15 expelled PAIGC members. Instead he said that negotiations should take place at the level of institutions, involving political parties and the president.

It was primarily during the meeting with Correia that Council members had the opportunity to intervene. They noted that the optimism following the elections in 2014 has now been tempered, and that the political crisis has impacted the lives of the people. It was affecting development of the country, as donors were delaying disbursing the majority of the $1.2 billion pledged at the Donors Conference for Guinea-Bissau in March 2015. A unanimous message was the need to resolve the crisis through dialogue. Some members also raised concerns over the political crisis deteriorating further with potential peace and security repercussions.

The representatives of the PRS presented a different view to Council members, attributing the cause of the crisis to the internal divisions within the PAIGC. They further highlighted the Correia government’s failure in recent months to meet several legal deadlines for submitting his national programme to a vote.

The final meeting was with Vaz at the Presidential Palace. Like the PRS, Vaz said that the current problems were a product of a severe internal crisis within the PAIGC. His main position was that the current crisis was political in nature and therefore a political solution through negotiations was required. Relying on the courts could further undermine the political situation. Additionally it seems Vaz sought to reassure the Council that despite the prolonged political impasse there had been no violence.

Russia and the US led the interventions of Council members. Russia highlighted the importance of dialogue to resolve the crisis and called on the president to keep in mind the regional implications of a continuing impasse. Members are keenly aware of the risk of the worsening of transnational threats such as drug trafficking, and even the possibility of extremist terrorist groups taking advantage of the situation. The US stressed the importance of dialogue and respect for the rule of law to resolve the crisis, noting that politics are also subject to the rule of law. Vaz responded by saying he could guarantee that no one in Guinea-Bissau is above the rule of law.

Members seemed to have been left with a sense that the key actors are deeply divided. Indeed, the meetings seem to have intensifed some members’ concerns about the fragility of the situation. While all members want to see the situation resolved through dialogue, they were apparently also in agreement that this had to be done in line with the country’s laws and constitution.

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