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The legislative elections in Guinea-Bissau scheduled for June 4 will have a major impact on the political stability of the country. Critical institution the reforms (notably a review of constitution), which have long been a source of division between political actors, will depend on the balance of power after the elections.
The polls were held after President Umaro Embaló dissolved the National People’s Assembly (NPA) in May 2022. The decree to dissolve parliament cited persistent differences between the organization and the other branches of government, and the NPA refused to audit its accounts. In the same way, he mentioned the rejection of the attempt to remove the immunity from the prosecution that some of them have.
Regardless of these official reasons, the dissolution is about Mr. Embaló’s efforts to control political power. Since coming to office in February 2020, he has sought to move away from the semi-presidential government system in Guinea-Bissau. This Portuguese-style approach involved an equal balance of power between the executive, legislative and judicial bodies and their leaders.
Mr. Embaló has adopted a more presidential style, and has worked to strengthen it by creating a commission sketch a the new constitution that will include the presidential regime. The NPA has done so despite the fact that it has the power to initiate constitutional changes, which must be approved by a two-thirds majority.
Deputies, including those who support the government, reject The draft constitution proposed by The committee created by Mr. Embaló. The draft strengthens presidential powers and reflects the desire to protect constitutional controls in Guinea-Bissau.
The country has had a semi-presidential regime since 1993 – a choice based on ending the omnipotence of former president João Bernardo Vieira, who used constitutional revisions to concentrate power in his hands. In rejecting the draft constitution, the MPs may want to ensure an inclusive political system that will allow political parties, especially those represented in Parliament, to participate in governance.
The NPA presented an anti-constitutional reform proposal that maintains the status quo but clarifies ambiguous provisions that have caused tension between the president and the prime minister. These tensions, along with poor governance, are at the root of chronic political instability in Guinea-Bissau, as evidenced by the numerous coups since independence from Portugal in 1974.
Before dissolving the NPA, MPs were expected to discuss counter-proposals. Achieving consensus on constitutional reform is essential for stability in Guinea-Bissau. However, this requires free and transparent legislative elections and results that are considered credible by all political actors.
But with elections less than two months away, the main political parties have not reached an agreement to renew the Executive Secretariat of the National Electoral Commission (NEC). These parties include the African Party for the Independence of Guinea and Cape Verde, the Movement for Democratic Change, the Party for Social Renewal, the Union for Change and the Guinea-Bissau People’s Assembly-United Democratic Party.
The mandate of the NEC, which is responsible for organizing and overseeing electoral processes, ended on 30 April 2022. Its former president, José Pedro Sambú, was elected president of the Supreme Court in December 2021, leaving the post of head of the NEC vacant.
Since the country’s 2013 electoral reform, only magistrates appointed from the Supreme Council of the Judiciary have made up the Executive Secretariat of the NEC, elected by two-thirds of the NPA for four-year terms. While this allowed the NEC to depoliticize and hold credible elections, it faced a major crisis of legitimacy post-election. the case in 2019 Political actors saw political control of the NEC as key to improving or protecting their electoral fortunes.
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With no Parliament to elect the Chairman and members of the Executive Secretariat of the NEC, and given the urgent need for a functional NEC before the vote, agreement on electoral rules is essential. Credible elections also require Embaló to encourage dialogue between national actors to resolve this legal challenge that will have major political ramifications.
Guinea-Bissau’s international partners, namely the Economic Community of West African States, the African Union, the United Nations, the European Union and the Community of Portuguese Linguistic Countries, should encourage efforts to find political consensus.
Having participated in the country’s stabilization process, these partners can help create a framework for dialogue between political actors and civil society. This will create an atmosphere of confidence in the run-up to the elections and the review of the constitution.
Paulin Maurice Toupane, Senior Researcher, Institute for Security Studies (ISS) West Africa, Sahel and Lake Chad Basin, Dakar
(This article was first published By ISS Today, Premium Times union member We have their permission to republish).
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