Politicians in the poor West African state were summoned by armed forces chiefs at the weekend to discuss the formation of a temporary administration to organise elections after the army toppled the country’s leaders and government on Thursday. The coup cut short a presidential election process already underway.
But the prospects of forming a representative government appeared impossible after Guinea-Bissau’s main party, the PAIGC, which holds two-thirds of seats in parliament, rejected what it called the army’s “anti-constitutional” actions.
After two days of talks, the around 20 political parties who met with the military – without the PAIGC – agreed to create a “national transition council” whose composition and tenure still had to be decided, a spokesman for the parties, Fernando Vaz, said. All existing constitutional bodies were “dissolved”.
An interim president and prime minister for the transition to new elections would be named after further meetings.
The military, which has a history of coups, revolts and political meddling in the former Portuguese colony, has interim President Raimundo Pereira and former Prime Minister Carlos Gomes Junior in custody. They were hauled from their homes amid machine gun and heavy weapons fire on Thursday.
As the international community heaped condemnation on the army for carrying out the latest coup in West Africa, there were signs that ordinary citizens in one of the world’s poorest and most fragile states were also unhappy.
About 300 young protesters, carrying a banner that read “Enough violence”, marched to the National Assembly on Sunday only to be dispersed by soldiers who threatened them with their guns, witnesses said. At least one demonstrator was injured.
The protesters shouted slogans calling for the restoration of constitutional rule and for the release of Gomes Junior, a PAIGC leader who had looked set to win a presidential election run-off scheduled for April 29, now halted by the coup.
Soldiers also occupied the facilities of at least three private radio stations in Bissau – Radio Bombolom, Radio Pidjiguiti and Radio Nossa – apparently to stop them broadcasting criticism of the military.
In an apparent attempt to ward off international and domestic condemnation, the military command had earlier issued a communique saying it would work “to create the necessary conditions for the rapid re-establishment of constitutional order and above all a climate of peace and security”.
But international and regional bodies were unimpressed, keeping up a drumbeat of criticism.
ECOWAS, the West African grouping of regional states, was sending a high-level delegation which was expected to tell the military on Monday that Thursday’s coup was “unacceptable”, an ECOWAS spokesman said.
The Guinea-Bissau putsch was the second such military power grab in West Africa in a month, after a coup in Mali in March that has raised fears of worsening instability in the region.
Meeting in Lisbon at the weekend, the Community of Portuguese-speaking Countries (CPLP), which counts Guinea-Bissau among its members, backed the idea of a U.N.-mandated intervention force for Guinea-Bissau to be formed with the cooperation of the African Union and the European Union.
The expected presidential election winner, Gomes Junior, was unpopular with military chiefs because he backed an initiative to reform and downsize the bloated army, which is accused of involvement in drug-trafficking by western security agencies.
“These events all highlight the terrible need for security sector reform,” a Bissau-based diplomat told Reuters.
“In Guinea-Bissau, the military don’t really want power, they are not interested in running the state … they just want to be able to go on with their businesses, their drugs business, their fishing business,” the diplomat added, referring to the army summons to the political parties to form an administration.
Guinea-Bissau, whose weak governance has made it a hub for Latin American drug cartels shipping cocaine to Europe, was in the middle of electing a president to replace Malam Bacai Sanha, who died in a Paris hospital in January after an illness. Reuters