13.03.2019 Guinea

Guinea-Bissau's ruling party wins parliamentary vote

By Malick Rokhy Ba and Allen Yero Embalo
The founder of Guinea-Bissau's PAIGC party, Amilcar Cabral, looks down as spokesman Joao Bernardo Vieira speaks to the press.  By SEYLLOU (AFP)
LISTEN MAR 13, 2019
The founder of Guinea-Bissau's PAIGC party, Amilcar Cabral, looks down as spokesman Joao Bernardo Vieira speaks to the press. By SEYLLOU (AFP)

Guinea-Bissau's historic ruling party appeared well placed to form a coalition government Wednesday after winning weekend elections in a result likely to perpetuate its long-running standoff with President Mario Vaz.

In announcing provisional results, the National Election Commission said the African Party for the Independence of Guinea and Cape Verde (PAIGC) had secured 47 of parliament's 102 seats after winning 46.1 percent of the vote.

But the result was just short of an outright majority, leaving the party dependent on smaller factions to build a coalition.

And the result could well plunge this poor, volatile West African state into a new round of confrontation between PAIGC and Vaz, analysts warned.

Another 48 seats were taken by two opposition parties, with the final seven seats won by factions who on Tuesday agreed to back a PAIGC-led government.

The announcement sparked jubilant celebrations at PAIGC's headquarters where chanting supporters banged drums and saucepans, and cars honked their horns.

"So far there has been no challenge," said election chief Pedro Sambu, who said turnout in Sunday's legislative ballot stood at more than 84 percent.

The one-time Marxist party has run this tiny state of two million people for most of the 45 years since independence from Portugal.

Long crisis

The elections sought to end a nearly four-year-old crisis.  By SEYLLOU (AFP) The elections sought to end a nearly four-year-old crisis. By SEYLLOU (AFP)

Sunday's vote aimed to draw a line under a crisis that erupted in August 2015 when Vaz sacked his prime minister Domingos Simoes Pereira, who heads PAIGC.

Vaz, who also came from the same party, then appointed a string of prime ministers but none garnered sufficient support to achieve a majority in parliament.

Parliamentary work was snarled for two years -- sparking frequent strikes by civil servants who went unpaid because of delays in approving the budget.

In April 2018, the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) brokered a deal which led to the installation of consensus premier Aristide Gomes, allowing parliament to resume its work.

Gomes was given the caretaker role of preparing for fresh legislative polls, which eventually took place on March 10 after a string of largely technical delays.

The new coalition lineup will play a key role in choosing the next prime minister.

That is likely to hand the role of kingmaker to Nuno Gomes Nabiam, who heads the five-seat APU-PDGB which has agreed to back a PAIGC-led government.

Nabiam ran against Vaz in the 2014 presidential elections but was beaten in the second round.

Vaz's five-year term ends on June 23.

Powerful opposition

That leaves two parties in opposition -- the Madem-G15, led by PAIGC rebels, which picked up 27 seats, and the Party for Social Renovation (PRS), which won 21 seats and is reputedly close to part of the military hierarchy.

Ahead of the vote, the two parties concluded their own pact, meaning they could constitute a powerful opposition of 48 MPs.

The outcome of the election may confirm fears that gridlock may flare again, say commentators.

"Nothing suggests that these elections will make it possible to resolve the problems undermining the country," UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres had warned ahead of the vote.

He pointed to the option of a future revision of the constitution to clarify the roles of president and prime minister, both of whom wield executive power.

Coups and cocaine

Guinea-Bissau.  By Jonathan JACOBSEN (AFP) Guinea-Bissau. By Jonathan JACOBSEN (AFP)

Wedged between Senegal and Guinea on Africa's west coast, Guinea-Bissau has a notorious reputation for volatility.

It has seen 16 coup attempts since independence, four of which have been successful.

International sanctions remain in place since 2012 after the last violent seizure of power.

The country's porous coastline and chronic instability have made it a target for Latin American drug lords trafficking cocaine to Europe, implicating members of the elite.

During Sunday's vote, police in the capital Bissau said they had found nearly 800 kilogrammes (1,700 pounds) of cocaine in a Senegal-registered truck, the biggest drugs haul in a decade.

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