Elected parliament sworn in, new government to follow

Guinea-Bissau's recently elected parliament was sworn in on Friday, paving the way for the PAIGC, which controls nearly half the seats, to form a new government in this small West African country.

PAIGC leader and prime minister designate Carlos Gomes Junior told IRIN that he would announce his new cabinet next week following formal consultations with transitional President Henrique Rosa. A source in the presidency said Rosa would formally appointe Gomes Junior as prime minister on Monday.

The PAIGC (African Party for the Independence of Guinea-Bissau and Cape Verde) is making a comeback after spending five years in opposition. It won 45 of the 100 seats in parliament that were contested in internationally monitored elections at the end of March.

Elections have yet to take place for the remaining two seats in parliament which will represent Guinea-Bissau emigrants in Europe and other parts of Africa.

This is Guinea-Bissau's first elected parliament to take office for 18 months. Former president Kumba Yala dissolved the legislature in November 2002 and repeatedly missed deadlines set for the holding of new elections. He was finally ousted in a bloodless coup on 14 September last year.

Since then, the country has been ruled by a broad-based transitional government representing all its main parties. This will be dissolved to make way for a new PAIGC-led administration.

The PAIGC was founded as a liberation movement in 1956 to fight against Portguese colonial rule. After a 13-year guerrilla war it eventually led the country to independence in 1973. However, the party was displaced from power in 1999 after a brief but bitter civil war.

Elections in late 1999 and early 2000 brought to power Kumba Yala and his Social Renovation Party (PRS). However, his government rapidly became unpopular after it ran out of money and stopped paying the salaries of most civil servants, teachers and health workers. These are still owed several months of arrears.

Although the PAIGC does not have an absolute majority in the new parliament, it has negotiated a deal to govern with the support of the PRS. This was formally signed on Friday as the new parliament was sworn in at a ceremony at the main hotel in the capital Bissau.

With 35 seats in parliament, the PRS is now the country's second largest political party. However, it is no longer headed by Kumba Yala, who has lived under virtual house arrest since last year's coup.

Party officials said the PRS would not take any ministerial posts in the new government. Instead, it would receive two senior posts in parliament's governing body and a number of top jobs in government departments and parastatal organisations. In return, it will support the PAIGC's legislative programme, they added

The PAIGC initially planned to rule with the backing of Francisco Fadul's United Social Democrat Party (PUSD), which has 17 seats in the new parliament, but negotiations between the two parties fell through last month.

A team of more than 100 international observers declared the March elections free and fair, but the inauguration of the new parliament was delayed by PRS accusations of fraud. These were investigated, but were eventually found to be groundless.

President Rosa, a respected civilian businessman appointed by the army to steer this country of 1.3 million people back to democracy, will remain head of state until presidential elections are held in March 2005.

Guinea-Bissau, which relies on exports of cashew nuts and income from selling fishing licences to foreign trawlers, is one of the poorest countries in West Africa.

The incoming PAIGC administration will continue to face a chronic cash shortage, but it is counting on international donors to support Guinea-Bissau with new aid flows to assist the country's return to democracy and political stability.