05 December 2008

Ain’t no coups like Guinea-Bissau coups, cause the Guinea-Bissau coups don’t stop!

"No one has the right to massacre the people of Guinea-Bissau in order to steal power by means of the gun” was the word from President Vieira on November 23rd, 2008 (less than a week after parliamentary elections) in response to a recent attempt on his life. The statement rang especially hollow, in part because Vieira himself came to power in a military uprising in 1980; The truth of the matter is that in Guinea-Bissau no one may have the right to a coup d’etat, but their history of effectiveness means that they will continue to be used as a mechanism for social change, especially by minority groups with little faith in the electoral system.

The most recent attempted coup was perpetrated by disgruntled members of the armed forces allegedly led by Guinea Bissau Navy Sergeant Alexandre Ntchama Yala – nephew of former President Kumba Yala. Kumba Yala has recently accused Vieira of being “the country's top drug trafficker” – no small charge considering the sheer scope of the drug trafficking problem in Guinea-Bissau, which borders on being a narco-state. Before the attempted assassination police attempting to take Yala into custody for questioning relating to his recent drug allegations against the President were fought off by supporters. Yala’s party, the Social Renewal Party (PRS) received only 28 of the 100 seats in the November 16th parliamentary elections, causing him to denounce the elections as rigged, despite assurances from the African Union as well as United Nations observers that the elections were “free and fair”- or at least free and fair enough that the international observers weren’t going to raise any fuss about it. Whether or not these parliamentary elections were free or fair is perhaps not the most pressing concern when the President is attempting arrest his political rivals.

After successful coups both in 1980 and 1999 (the former putting now-President Vieira in power and the latter ousting him) as well as attempted coups in 1985 and this past August, violence seems like a viable option to dissenting parties – especially on the eve of elections which they see as illegitimate. While the most recent coup against President Vieira was unsuccessful due to his prior knowledge of the attack, given the historical inclination to and success of violent uprising in post-colonial Guinea-Bissau one can assume that it will be by far the last attempt in the poverty-stricken former Portuguese colony. Coup d’états occur when there is unrest in a country, and when they believe that the coups could succeed. The rampaging cholera epidemic and rampant narcotic trafficking in Guinea-Bissau create a strong case for unrest, and there historical examples of successful coup d’états in both the country and the region. The perpetrators of the coup certainly believed both of these criteria were met, and that does not bode well for the future stability in Guinea-Bissau - regardless of the praise international organization may heap upon the recent parliamentary elections.


21 November 2008

Stability / Continuity: Election Day 2008

Election day has come and gone in Guinea-Bissau and with initial vote counting completed, the Party for the Independence of Guinea and Cape Verde (PAIGC) has once again won a decisive victory. Eighty-two percent of Guineans participated in the 16 November elections, awarding 67 seats to the PAIGC, 28 to the Party for Social Renewal (PRS), and three to the Republican Party for Independence and Development (PRID). The National Democratic Party and the Democratic Alliance each took one seat.

Voter turnout in the past elections in Guinea-Bissau has been very high, and this year was no exception. Vladimir Monteiro a spokesmen for the United Nations office in Guinea-Bissau calculated that the turnout in this parliamentary election was about 75 to 80 percent. Monteiro also expressed pleasure in the presence of the many women that both voted and helped oversee the election process.

Calling the electoral process a “victory for democracy” a special envoy of the United Nations was impressed with what they saw. International observers were out in force for the election; in total more than 150 United Nations observers oversaw the election process. No major problems were reported from any of the U.N. participants and all indications are that they are confident that the outcome will truly reflect the will of the people.

Another international group with a vested interest in the election was the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS). A total of 45 election observers from ECOWAS not only observed the voting but the opening and closing of the polls and are today observing the counting process. Theses agents were deployed in many of the polling stations around the country and were pleased with the following aspects:

1. Election Commissions were prepared to hold the election

2. Voter turnout was high

3. Voters were in good spirits

4. Election officials adequately knew the rules and the processes

5. There was a calmness felt amongst the voters

6. The process was smooth

7. The voting was without hindrance.

Surprisingly, ECOWAS had only two minor complaints:

1. Election material arriving late to Bissora

2. A low supply of indelible ink at polling stations.

These minors occurrences had little to no affect on the well run election process and seemingly had no affect on the outcome of the election.

In the 2004 parliamentary election cycle, the PAIGC won a plurality of 45 seats. In last Sunday’s election the former party of now independent (in-name-only) President Vieira won a clear majority in the legislative body. Leader of the PAIGC, Carlos Gomez Jr. was returned to the post of Prime Minister. In the past parliamentary session in Guinea-Bissau the PAIGC had to maintain and lead coalitions to enact policy directives. But now, with 67 seats, the Prime Minister position, and a friendly executive branch, very little short of mass public unrest stands in the party’s way. In a country whose political history is rife with turmoil, such an outcome raises the question: why did the electorate give one party such free reign over the political process?

“Aida, a 21-year-old student who voted for the first time, said: ‘We are tired of the politicians quarrelling. We want water, we want electricity…we just want to be normal’” (IRIN Africa). Wanting to be normal in this situation is wanting a stable government, regardless of freedoms. We are somewhat wary of such a decisive victory in Guinea-Bissau due to the nation’s history of dictatorial rule, and in this case it seems that the nation is veering dangerously close to utter domination of one party, which forces us to ask: What of the rights of the minority?

It is important to reiterate here that the PAIGC has by no means been a minor party; this election was not a vote for change, as seen elsewhere in the world. As discussed in last weeks update, the myriad connections between the PAIGC and the State stretch back to praises for the party in the country’s constitution. The Guinean electorate has strengthened this association, buying the PAIGC package wholesale. Given the party’s long history of internal quarreling, it is unclear whether the PAIGC will be able to deliver on the needs of the people. But in this tiny nation torn apart by military coups, cholera outbreaks, and narcotics trafficking, the PAIGC appears the only institution resilient enough to whether the storm.

And with that thought: Here is picture of President "Nino" Vieira on election day. Enjoy.








14 November 2008

PAIGC: The Vanguard

We’ve previously discussed on this blog the striking similarities between symbols of the PAIGC and the State of Guinea-Bissau. Further complicating matters, the language of the Guinea-Bissau Constitution underlines the party’s hegemony, describes the people’s debt owed to the PAIGC, and borders on idolatry. The Preamble to the Constitution begins:

“In an exemplary manner the Party for the Independence of Guinea and Cape Verde (PAIGC), having been founded on 19 September 1956, has accomplished its political and military action plan [Programa Minimo], consisting of liberating the people of Guinea and Cape Verde, winning the sovereignty of the two respective states simultaneously […] The Party consecrated the independence, winning internal and international harmony, respect and admiration as the form for directing the future of the Guinea nation, namely through the creation and institutionalisation [sic] of the state structure.”

The text clearly intimates that the PAIGC should not only be credited with the creation of the state, but also should be entrusted with it’s future. The preamble goes on to state that “the Popular National Assembly congratulates the PAIGC on paper for being in the vanguard involved in unfolding the conduct of the destiny of the nation.”

Given the above excerpt of the Guinean Constitution, it should come as no surprise that the PAIGC has been the major player since enacting the constitution. Current President João Bernardo "Nino" Vieira was both dictator and head of the PAIGC for nearly 20 years, and was first elected to his current seat in 1994, running with the PAIGC. At that time, the PAIGC won a 62 out of 100 seat majority in the National People’s Assembly in the July 1994 parliamentary elections. And though they lost this majority in 1999, they came back with a plurality of 45 out of 100 seats in 2004. Vieira later ran as an independent in the 2005 presidential race, but his long-standing ties with the PAIGC amounts to yet another victory for the vanguard party.

With the history of PAIGC control, or at the least competition, we can expect a strong showing on their behalf in the elections this Sunday. But does this represent free and fair elections? Does a party that is credited with the creation of the government compete on the same playing field as all others? With such nationalist symbols, can the voter distinguish any separation of the PAIGC and the state? The PAIGC’s ties to the independence movement and its involvement in drafting the constitution (especially the electoral system), give it an unfair advantage over other parties. When you make the rules you know how to play the game. Of course, the issue here is that the game should be fair—these are the lives and freedoms of 1,503,182 people. But in Guinea-Bissau, after a history of PAIGC dictatorship and a bloody civil war, perhaps no one expects politics to be fair.

(please address grading of this week's posts separately)

Constitution of Guinea-Bissau
Guinea-Bissau Election Results
CIA World Factbook - Guinea-Bissau

All Hail to the Chief

With the 2008 Guinea-Bissau parliamentary election looming overhead now seems like an apt time to examine the foundation of law in Guinea-Bissau: The Constitution. Initially adopted in 1984, the Guinean Constitution contains a number of fairly concerning articles relating to the creation and control of government.

The Constitution of Guinea-Bissau describes the government as “the supreme executive and administrative organ of the Republic of Guinea-Bissau… [it] conducts the general politics of the country in accordance with its program, approved by the National Popular Assembly.” Article 97 of the Constitution also defines the Prime Minister and various secretaries as the “the government.” In most parliamentary systems the Prime Minister title would indicate an official chosen by the legislature from its own number, however the Guinea-Bissau system takes a different tact on this aspect: the President nominates the Prime Minister as well as the cabinet, as stated in Article 98:

“Article 98
(1) The Prime Minister is nominated by the President of the Republic in accordance with electoral results and after consulting with political parties represented in the National Popular Assembly.
(2) Ministers and secretaries of state are nominated by the President of the Republic, on the proposal of the Prime Minister.”

At first this appears unusual, but hardly sinister. However, as we have noted in previous posts the President, rather than the Prime Minister, also has the power to dissolve parliament. Ergo, the President has the capacity to both hire and fire the government as a whole; President Vieira demonstrated this power earlier this year when he shut down the government, dissolved parliament, and appointed a new Prime Minister and cabinet of his choosing to run a temporary government. He did so without consulting the parliament because he had temporarily done away with that particular constitutionally guaranteed aspect of government.

Further, Article 62 defines the President as “the Head of State, symbol of unity, guarantor of national independence and the Constitution and supreme commander of the Armed Forces,” a particularly unsettling fact given that President Vieira was formerly the country’s dictator who gained power by force, overthrowing the previous government. Article 120 also gives the President the final say over the selection of and power to swear in Justices of the Guinean Supreme Court.

Given the de facto dictatorship given to the President by the constitution, what is the point of having a free and fairly elected legislature? Is there a free and fairly elected legislature in Guinea-Bissau? President Vieira’s power over parliament, the judiciary system, and the armed forces shows a clear lack of checks and balances that is an impediment to the “pluralistic, free and just society” which the preamble of the Guinean constitution mandates.

Discussion of elections gives legitimacy to a government and in the case of Guinea-Bissau we must admit that the results of the election will only serve to make the government only appear more legitimate. The truth is that nearly all of the power of actual governance is concentrated in the hands of the president; Parliamentary elections in Guinea-Bissau do not signify that the voice of the people will be heard in policy making - How can they when the results are subject to the will of the President?

Constitution of Guinea Bissau
Guinea Bissau in turmoil after Parliament Dissolved (AFP)

07 November 2008

Voter Turnout in Guinea-Bissau

High Voter Turnout is Likely
Guinea-Bissau’s election is only 9 days away. There are a couple of reasons that may contribute to high turnout in Guinea-Bissau.
First, elections are held on Sundays. Sunday, November 16 will be the Parliamentary election. As a result, voting does not interfere with the typical workweek, which is one way it may contribute to higher turnout. One of the primary reasons the United States has not attempted to switch Election Day to a weekend is the interference with religious holidays for many citizens. Seventy-eight and one-half percent of United States citizens are Christians (World Fact Book: United States)[1]. For Christians, Sunday is the Sabbath and many believe it would be an inappropriate day for elections. In contrast, Guinea-Bissau’s population is 50% Muslim, and 40% have Indigenous beliefs. Only 5% of Guinea-Bissau’s citizens are Christian (World Fact Book “Guinea-Bissau”)[2]. Muslim’s have a day of rest and prayer on Friday, as opposed to Sunday. This makes Sunday a more fitting day for Guinea-Bissau elections than it is for the United States elections.
A second factor that could contribute to Guinea-Bissau’s high turnout may be the view that reform is underway, and elections are significant to continue reforms and prevent instability. Guinea-Bissau has experienced political instability. There is a risk of the country becoming a narco-state, which is a state that is controlled largely by drug cartels where law enforcement is ineffective.[3] Some already consider Guinea-Bissau a narco-state.[4] To combat these problems, the UN has become involved. The UN has overseen and assisted with Guinea-Bissau elections in the past, with an attempt to move the country toward stability and democracy and to ensure fair elections. Guinea-Bissau has made a commitment to the UN that the November 16th Parliamentary elections will be transparent, free and fair. The international community, at the suggestion of the UN, has given money to help support this effort.[5] Voters may feel that their role in this effort is to elect parties to parliament that will assist in eliminating instability and turn the country around. Voter turnout typically increases when citizens feel that their vote will have a significant impact on the future of the country. Because instability is a significant issue, it is likely that voters in Guinea-Bissau will view their role in the election as important.
Finally, in Guinea-Bissau’s last Parliamentary election, voter turnout was 80% of registered voters[6]. Although turnout is typically higher for Guinea-Bissau Presidential elections, 80% of registered voters is high turnout. It is important to note, however, that not all eligible voters may be registered voters. For example, if only a small portion of eligible voters are registered and these individuals vote, the percent of registered voters that turnout may be high but the overall voter turnout may not be. As a result, past voter turnout of registered voters in Guinea-Bissau does not help predict turnout of eligible voters in the upcoming election.

What Does High Voter Turnout Mean for Guinea-Bissau?
High voter turnout can help establish legitimacy for the elected government. If voter turnout is low, the perception that the elected government was not widely supported can interfere with its ability to accomplish goals and gain public support for projects in office. The opposite also seems to hold true. If a party of candidate is elected with widespread support and high voter turnout they are perceived to have the backing of a significant amount of the population and may find it easier to accomplish goals in office or get support for programs and initiatives. Legitimacy is particularly important for Guinea-Bissau as a state that has recently transitioned into a democracy, but still faces many challenges. A strong government that is perceived to be legitimate will be more likely to remain stable.

[1] https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/print/us.html
[2] https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/print/pu.html
[3] http://www.wordreference.com/definition/narco-state
[4] http://www.africanloft.com/guinea-bissau-the-first-african-narco-state/
[5] http://www.un.org/apps/news/story.asp?NewsID=28586&Cr=guinea-bissau&Cr1=
[6] http://www.nationmaster.com/country/pu-guinea-bissau/dem-democracy

03 October 2008

Guinea-Bissau and the World Community

As with elections in the past, Guinea-Bissau is counting on assistance from the world community through the United Nations and European Union. In those elections other nations have offered monetary assistance, as well as assistance with election observation (Refworld). The leaders of this small nation feel that the encouragement of the more industrialized and rich nations that make up the United Nations and European Union is key to having a successful and fair election. However, given the disabling events that have taken place in the past, international organizations have certain fears for the upcoming legislative elections, but positive events are taking place as well.

The presence of the military is a potentially troubling aspect that the United Nations. Fears are springing up that the military could exert undue force in this election and change the outcome from what might be intended. Another valid fear that international actors have is the influence of the unlawful drug traffickers. As their power grows the possibility of a fair election lessens. This threat is given credence by the fact that the attorney general Manuel Cabal’s life has been threatened for investigating charges of drug trafficking (Refworld). A third, possibly fatal aspect is the threat of terrorism. Officials in Guinea-Bissau have detained two Mauritanian citizens in connection with the death of four French citizens and, in doing so have received threats of retribution (All Africa).

With all of those factors taken into account there is still positive news from Guinea-Bissau. In total 72% of voters have been registered and the United Nations estimates that the country is 70% prepared to hold these elections. Also, the International Monetary Fund after having withdrawn funds in 2001 has reinstated aid to Guinea-Bissau on a conditional basis. The European Unions has also contributed 600,000 Euro to help with the cost of the election (Refworld).

Reforms have been suggested by the United Nations such as greater voter registration efforts and voter education to a higher degree than in the past, but the already fragile hope for a peaceful election in Guinea-Bissau hangs by a thread and any major negative events could throw it off course (United Nations).

1. All Africa
2. UN Refugee Agency’s RefWorld
3. United Nations: Background Paper on Guinea-Bissau legislative elections on 16 November 2008

26 September 2008

Ballot Business

Because Guinea-Bissau is a parliamentary system, each voter chooses a party as represented on the following ballot for the legislature:

(Source: http://aceproject.org/ero-en/regions/africa/GW/Guinea-Bissau%20-%20ballot%20paper%20(leg)%204.jpg)

Each party is represented not only by the party name, but by a party seal and flag. In all ballots which we have been able to uncover the PAIGC has been listed first, possibly due to the PAIGC’s historical legacy as the militant revolutionaries who gained initial independence from Portugal. Their placement on the ballot has probably also contributed to their political success in previous parliamentary elections. The PAIGC’s seal and flag are also nearly identical to the seal and flag of Guinea-Bissau, most likely due to this same revolutionary legacy and likely also contributing to their success.

The ballots for the 2005 presidential election featured pictures of the candidates along with their party affiliation. The CIA World Fact Book places adult literacy at 42.4% of the total population, and only 27.4% of the female population. Because Guinea-Bissau has universal suffrage for those over 18 the inclusion of graphic representations of parties and photos of candidates on the ballots is a way for those who cannot read to differentiate between parties and candidates.

(Source: http://aceproject.org/ero-en/regions/africa/GW/Guinea-Bissau%20-%20ballot%20paper%20(pres)%202.jpg)




Written by: Andrea

Contributions by: Andrew