New government named but national unity still a long way off

Guinea-Bissau got its new government on Wednesday after nearly two weeks of institutional paralysis, but with the volatile country’s largest political party left on the outside looking in, promises of national unity look to have gone unfulfilled.

“This government doesn’t have the parliamentary base it needs,” a spokesperson for the country’s former ruling party said on Thursday. “It won’t be able to last for long.”

The tiny West African nation had been without a government since late last month when President Joao Bernardo Vieira sacked Prime Minister Carlos Gomes Junior with whom he had been feuding for months.

The president’s decision to replace Gomes Junior with a close ally and former campaign director enraged the sacked prime minister and his African Party for the Independence of Guinea-Bissau and Cape Verde (PAIGC) which, as the largest contingent in parliament, claimed the constitutional right to nominate a new prime minister.

At the same time, the appointment left the way open for a government that would be much more cooperative with Vieira, a controversial figure who first came to power in a 1980 coup, was deposed in the 1998-99 civil war and whose victory in July’s presidential elections is still contested by the PAIGC.

Speaking after his inauguration last week, new Prime Minister Aristides Gomes promised to form a government of consensus that would include all the country’s political forces.

After lengthy negotiations that failed to produce a minister of the interior, former President Kumba Yala’s Social Renovation Party (PRS) appears to be the big winner. It has gone from sitting in the opposition to supplying five ministers and four state secretaries.

But PAIGC members were conspicuously absent from the list of 27 new ministers. Only one, the minister of the economy, served in the previous government.

Three, plus the new prime minister, were among 14 pro-Vieira dissidents to defect from the PAIGC in September and sit as independents.

That move tipped the balance of power in parliament, reducing the ruling PAIGC to 31 out of 100 seats while the Forum of Convergence for Development (FCD), a loose opposition coalition, claimed to have 53 seats and, therefore, a parliamentary majority.

Ministers must leave their parliamentary seats when taking office. Parties nominate parliamentary replacements but independents are not substituted.

This change of faces could tip the delicate balance of power when parliament begins its new session on 21 November.

Moreover, the president’s decision to sack his political rival rather than wait for the confidence motion that Gomes Junior had promised for this month suggests to some that Vieira was already unsure his supporters could topple his nemesis in a vote.

The exclusion of the PAIGC could spell trouble for Guinea-Bissau, an impoverished country still trying to recover from its 1998-99 civil war and desperate to lure skittish international donors back for help in rebuilding its economy and infrastructure.

Last week, an IMF delegation left Bissau for lack of an interlocutor and said that political stability was a precondition to further talks on foreign assistance.