Guinea-Bissau votes in hope of ending long leadership deadlock

BISSAU (AFP) – Voters in Guinea-Bissau went to the polls yesterday to elect a new parliament in the hope of ending a protracted leadership deadlock in a country that has become renowned for drug trafficking and instability.

“I came to vote because I want the development of my country. I hope that the day passes off calmly,” said Victor Pereira, 42.

The onetime Marxist ruling party PAIGC, which has run the poor West African country of some two million for most of the 45 years since winning independence from Portugal, is fielding candidates along with 20 opposition parties.

Among them are the main opposition Party of Social Renewal and the Movement for Democratic Change (Madem-G15), made up of dissidents from the African Party for the Independence of Guinea and Cape Verde (PAIGC).

The latest crisis in the notoriously volatile country arose in August 2015 when President Jose Mario Vaz, elected a year earlier, sacked his prime minister, Domingos Simoes Pereira who was head of the PAIGC, after a falling out.

A voter casts his ballot at a polling station in Bissau during the legislative elections in Guinea-Bissau. – AFP

At the time, the parallel economy came to play a preponderant role, fuelled by drug trafficking.

Vaz appointed a series of prime ministers, but none garnered sufficient support to achieve a parliamentary majority.

Finally in April 2018, the regional Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) mediated an agreement leading to the designation of a consensus prime minister, Aristide Gomes, and the resumption of work by the 102-seat parliament.

Gomes was given the caretaker task of preparing for parliamentary polls, in which 36 per cent of candidates must be women for the first time.

Initially set for November 18, the polls were postponed to March 10 mainly for technical reasons.

The party that wins should appoint the future prime minister, who could once again be Vaz’s rival Simoes Pereira.

“These are the most contested elections in the history of Guinea-Bissau. We are coming out of a near four-year political crisis and no government has been able to complete its term,” noted political analyst Rui Landim.

United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres sounded a note of pessimism last month when he said, “Nothing suggests that these elections will make it possible to resolve the problems undermining the country.”