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Guinea-Bissau's political crisis deepens

Chrispin Mwakideu
May 19, 2022

Opposition parties and constitutional experts have slammed President Umaro Sissoco Embalo's decision to dissolve parliament. The move has heightened fears in the coup-prone West African nation.

Guinea Bissau PAIGC  Parteizentrale 2010
Image: Moussa Balde/epa/picture alliance

The opposition in Guinea-Bissau has condemned President Embalo's move to dissolve the National Assembly, saying it won't accept the decision. 

The Union for Change, one of the six parties with parliamentary seats, said it does not recognize Embalo's decision on Monday to send lawmaker's home and to call for snap parliamentary elections in December. 

"Neither authorities nor the people accept the acts of this president as legitimate," said the Union for Change's permanent secretary Armindo Handem.

"He is not a president vested with authority by the People's National Assembly," Handem told reporters in the capital Bissau.

The West African nation of about two million people has been in a political deadlock for months because of divisions between parliament and the presidency. 

Handem also said parliament, which he underlined was a "a legally and constitutionally valid authority", needed to decide whether it would accept its dissolution by the president.

Guinea-Bissau's parliament in session
Guinea-Bissau's parliament and president are at loggerheadsImage: Iancuba Danso/DW

Corrupt parliament?

President Embalo said his decision to dissolve parliament and hold elections two years early was prompted by alleged corruption among some parliamentarians.

"The National People's Assembly has defended and protected, under the guise of parliamentary immunity, deputies heavily indicted for crimes of corruption, harmful administration and embezzlement," Embalo said in a statement released on Monday.

Fode Caramba Sanha, the head of the National Civil Society Movement called on officials to do "everything possible to ensure that the elections take place" on December 18, 2022 and allow eligible voters to register. 

The next elections were originally scheduled for December 2024. But holding the elections two years early means the Election Commission has its work cut out for it. 

It says the country needs to update its electoral rolls allow voters to register 

Because of "problems in past elections", it is of course understandable that we should complete a new electoral roll, the acting president of the National Election Commission, N'pabi Cabi, told DW.

"Our internal financial machine is now working to see what the amount will be needed [to do this]," he said.

Guinea-Bissau's President Umaro Sissoco Embaló in Rwanda
Guinea-Bissau's President Umaro Sissoco Embalo has dissolved parliamentImage: Pressebüro der Präsidentschaft der Republik Guinea-Bissau/Jakadi

Dictatorial tendencies?

Some political observers see President Embalo as exhibiting tendencies associated with authoritarian rulers.

One of them is constitutional lawyer Jorge Miranda, a professor at the University of Lisbon who helped draft Guinea-Bissau's constitution. 

He said that under the country's constitution, the president can only dissolve parliament when there is a valid reason for doing so. But that isn't the case here, Miranda says. 

"[Embalo] simply wants to impose constitutional amendments and thus expand his powers and concentrate his power," Miranda believes. 

"This is a practice we see time and again with dictators."

Embalo, 49, has served as president since February 27, 2020. His presidency was the first to come to power peacefully through the ballot since Guinea-Bissau's independence from Portugal in 1974.

In February, Embalo said he had survived an assassination during a failed coup attempt.

An infographic comparing the number of coups in Guinea-Bissau compared to other African nations

Unconstitutional power grabs

Since independence, Guinea-Bissau has experienced four military coups, most recently in 2012, as well as the 1998-99 civil war and the assassination of a president, Joao Bernardo Vieira, in 2009.

Guinea-Bissau is one of the world's poorest and least developed countries, ranking 175 out of 189 nations on the UN's Human Development Index. 

The UN Office and Drugs and Crime say Guinea-Bissau's porous borders and uninhabited islands are a hub for cocaine trafficking from Latin America into Africa and beyond.

Guinea-Bissau opposition leader speaks to DW

Braima Darame, Iancuba Danso and Antonio Cascais contributed to this article.

Edited by: Kate Hairsine