Guinea-Bissau – José Mário Vaz wins Presidency

José Mário Vaz has won Sunday’s presidential run-off, according to preliminary results announced by the country’s electoral committee on Tuesday. Vaz, the candidate of Guinea-Bissau’s largest party, the African Party for the Independence of Guinea and Cabo Verde (PAIGC), won 61.9 per cent of the vote, defeating Nuno Nabiam, an independent, who garnered 38.1 per cent. Voter turnout was 78.1 per cent, indicating a drop in participation from the nearly 90 per cent recorded in the first round. The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) declared the second round of the presidential elections free, fair and transparent.

Since the PAIGC won a majority of seats in the national assembly in the April parliamentary elections, the party now controls both the presidency and the assembly.

Political stability at last?

Since the introduction of a multiparty system in 1994, Guinea-Bissau has had four elected presidents, five transitional presidents and three military heads of state.[1] No elected president has completed a five-year term. In addition, the country has experienced 15 prime ministers during the same period.[2] According to Guinea-Bissau sociologist Miguel de Barros, the future president should not have the power to influence the formation of the government.

Guinea-Bissau’s president-parliamentary constitution[3] authorizes the president to appoint and dismiss the prime minister and to dissolve parliament (Art. 68). In the literature, president-parliamentary systems are often associated with political instability.[4] Conflict between the president and assembly, it is argued, would prompt the head of state to dismiss the prime minister or to dissolve parliament. Guinea-Bissau constitutes a textbook example of the dangers of president-parliamentarism for political instability. For instance, late President Kumba Ialá dismissed no fewer than three prime ministers and dissolved parliament in the period 2000-2003. Equally, his successor, late President João Bernardo “Nino” Vieira of the PAIGC party, fired three prime ministers in the period 2005-2009. It is important to note that the three prime ministers belonged to President Vieira’s party. So the fact that President-elect José Mário Vaz and Prime Minister-designate Domingos Simões Pereira are party members does not imply the end of institutional conflict and political instability per se.

Another potential source of political instability is Guinea-Bissau’s powerful military. The military has exercised substantial power and interfered repeatedly in civilian leadership since 1994. In the past 20 years, the country has experienced two coups d’état, a civil war, an attempted coup, and a presidential assassination by the military. On 18 May 2014 the Chief of the Armed Forces, António Indjai, pledged his support for a return to constitutional order. Indjai is accused of being involved in the April 2012 coup against presidential candidate and PAIGC member Charles Gomes Junior. Like Gomes Junior, Vaz does not have a good rapport with the soldiers. Despite the fact that the PAIGC has full control over the presidency and the assembly, it still faces the army whose prominent members may fear lawsuits and reforms that could undermine its interests. The army could therefore interfere in political affairs and disrupt government action.

[1]See http://www.worldstatesmen.org (assessed May 21, 2014)

[2]Ibid.

[3]In president-parliamentary systems the government is dually accountable to both the president and the assembly majority.

[4]Moestrup, S. (2007) ‘Semi-Presidentialism in Young Democracies: Help or Hindrance?’, in Elgie, R. and Moestrup, S. (eds) Semi-Presidentialism Outside Europe: A Comparative Study, London: Routledge, 30-55; Elgie, R. (2011) Semi-Presidentialism: Sub-Types and Democratic Performance. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

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