Guinea-Bissau – Sanctions loom as president refuses to appoint new prime minister

Despite growing international pressure, president Vaz continues to refuse to appoint a new prime minister. The president has recently announced he will not dismiss sitting prime minister Embalo and has declared a “war against his enemies”. The United Nations Security Council is now threatening to take “necessary measures” if the situation deteriorates.

In a statement issued on 11 May, the members of the Security Council “expressed their deep concern over the protracted political and institutional crisis in Guinea-Bissau as a result of the inability of political stakeholders to reach a lasting and consensual solution, leading to the current gridlock”. The Security Council urged the president to appoint a prime minister whose selection respects the provisions of the Conakry Agreement.

According to the 2016 Conakry agreement, Vaz was required to appoint a new prime minister acceptable to all the various factions who would then name a new national unity government. Under the agreement, the new prime minister was to remain in office until the 2018 legislative elections. However, the president appointed Embalo without the approval of the PAIGC, the main party of the country which rejected the nomination and refused to participate in the government.

The root cause of the political crisis is the ongoing power struggle between president Vaz and former prime minister and party leader Pereira within the PAIGC. It transformed into an institutional crisis after Vaz fired prime minister Pereira in 2015. Since then, the country has had four prime ministers who were either supported by the president’s faction or by the one of Pereira. Despite international efforts, including the Conakry Agreement, the crisis is far from over.

The Community of West African States (ECOWAS) has set 25 May 2017 as a deadline for the president to appoint a new prime minister and threatened to impose sanctions against “those responsible for blocking the Conakry Accord”. ECOWAS did not give further details who might be targeted and what specific sanctions would be applied. The important question now is whether sanctions will force both men to the negotiating table.

On June 1st seven political parties, including the PAIGC signed a petition, urging ECOWAS to take “clear measures with immediate effect” to end the political crisis in the country. Guinea-Bissau’s second-largest party, the PRS has refused to sign the petition. Meanwhile, several mass demonstrations against the president have taken place in the capital Bissau. The protestors hold Vaz responsible for the ongoing crisis and demand his departure.

Vaz came to power in 2014 after winning a national election. Legislative and presidential elections are scheduled for 2018 and 2019, respectively.

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