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Opinion: Guinea-Bissau votes out its president

Johannes Beck
November 28, 2019

The results of Guinea-Bissau's election couldn't be clearer as incumbent President Vaz suffers a stunning defeat. Voters were fed up with Vaz's political quarrels, says DW's Johannes Beck.

Jose Mario Vaz, president of Guinea-Bissau
Jose Mario VazImage: DW/B. Darame

Jose Mario Vaz, popularly known by his nickname Jomav, made history in being the first democratically elected president of Guinea-Bissau to survive a full five-year term since the country gained independence from Portugal in 1974.

His predecessors were either ousted by coups or civil war, assassinated or died on the job due to ill health.

Vaz had hoped to set another record and become the first incumbent president of Guinea-Bissau to win reelection.

But voters put stop to that wish  Vaz gained only 12.4% of the ballot to place fourth in Sunday's election after and so is off the list for the rerun vote on December 29.

Vote counting in Guinea-Bissau
Voters are due back at the polls to decide on the next president on December 29Image: DW/B. Darame

He only has himself to blame for his disastrous result.

During his term, Jomav went though half a dozen prime ministers, refused to comply with political compromises painstakingly mediated by the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) and put personal animosity ahead of the interests of his country of almost 2 million people.

Promising start

The elections in 2014 initially looked as if could bring much needed stability to Guinea-Bissau, a country long rocked by military coups and political assassinations.

The former liberation movement PAIGC had Vaz as president and Domingos Simões Pereira, the party leader, as prime minister, as well as an absolute majority in parliament.

But then Vaz quarreled with Pereira, who he subsequently sacked in 2015, presumably because of enmity between the two families rather than major political differences. Vaz then fell out with PAIGC.

Beck Johannes Kommentarbild App
Johannes Beck heads DW's Portuguese for Africa service

Political stagnation

What followed was a political crisis that has paralyzed the country to this day: renegade MPs formed new parties, parliament has been at a standstill for months and prime ministers have come and gone with alacrity . As a grand finale, shortly before the election, Jomav sacked his sacked the prime-minister and his government and appointed a new one in a move seen as illegal by the international community. The old cabinet refused to step down resulting in the country having two governments.

At the same time, Guinea-Bissau is desperately in need of a functioning state. Government workers have waited for months to be paid, schools have been closed for most of the year, and there is virtually no modern health care in rural areas.

Domingos Simões Pereira speaks into a microphone
The quarrels between Domingos Simoes Pereira, seen here, and President Vaz run deepImage: DW/B. Darame

Against this background, it's perfectly understandable that voters showed the incumbent president a red card on election day!

Vaz's arch rival Pereira won 40.1% of the vote and is now the clear favorite in the runoff election against Umaro Sissoco Embalo, another ex-prime minister who gained 27.7% of the vote.

People's desire for stability and an end to the long-running political crisis is obvious - expectations the president will have to measure up against.