Guinea-Bissau’s former president, Kumba Yala, was released on Monday night after spending close to six months under house arrest following his ouster by the military on 14 September 2003.
The reasons for his liberation were not immediately clear. Up to early Tuesday afternoon, none of the main state organs established following the coup - the Military Committee for the Restoration of Democratic Order, the National Transitional Council, and the transitional government - had made any public announcement regarding his release.
In an interview with the Portuguese radio and television station, RTP, soon after his release, Yala said he would return to active politics.
Yala said he would be involved in the campaign of his former ruling Social Renovation Party (PRS – Partido de Renovacao Social) in legislative elections to be held on 28th March 2004.
He also told RTP he did not know understand why he had been ousted but that he was willing to forget the past and make a new beginning.
Yala was elected in early 2000. However, his reign was marred by frequent cabinet changes, poor relations with the media, labour, the military and the judiciary, as well as chronic instability.
In November 2001, Yala survived a rebellion led by Ansumane Mane, a former military head of state who held power briefly in the latter part of 1999. Mane died in that uprising.
While Yala’s liberation was unexpected, his announcement that he would be involved in the election campaign, which started a few days ago, caused even more surprise since the political transition charter that replaced the constitution following September’s coup, bars him from active politics for the next five years.
Guinea-Bissau’s political parties have reacted to his announcement by calling for the charter to be respected. Failure to stick to it could plunge this small West African country into a new crisis with unforeseeable consequences, they warned on Tuesday.
In the meantime, many Guineans say they hope Yala’s liberation will not jeopardise the transition and spark a new crisis in the runup to the 28 March elections. Campaigning for the polls started at the end of last week.
The main contenders among the 15 competing parties are Yala’s PRS and the African Party for the Independence of Guinea-Bissau and Cape Verde (PAIGC – Partido africano da independencia da Guine e Cabo-Verde), led by Carlos Domingos Gomes.
The PAIGC ruled the former Portuguese colony from 1973 to May 1999, when then president Nino Vieira was overthrown by Mane's Military Junta following an 11-month civil war.
Other front runners include the United Social Democratic Party(PUSD - Partido Unido Social Democrata) led by Francisco Fadul, who was prime minister in the transitional government set up by the Military Junta after Vieira’s overthrow. His government organised the legislative and presidential elections won by Yala and the PRS in late 1999 and early 2000.
Two coalitions are also expected to make a strong showing at this month’s polls. One is the United Platform (Plataforma Unida), headed by Helder Vaz. Vaz used to be the leader of the Guinea Resistance – Bafata Movement (Resistencia da Guine – Movimento Bafata ), which at one time ruled jointly with the PRS.
The other coalition, the Electoral Union (Uniao Eleitoral) is led by the secretary and spokesman of the incumbent National Transitional Council, Joaquim Balde.