High court deems new premier legal, sparks protests from leading party

Guinea Bissau’s highest court has approved the prime minister named by presidential decree late last year, rejecting a challenge by the country’s largest political party that the nomination was unconstitutional.

The African Party for the Independence of Guinea Bissau and Cape Verde (PAIGC) quickly denounced the 26 January Supreme Court decision as jeopardising democracy, casting fresh doubts over the political future of this impoverished West African country, long plagued by instability.

The high court said President Joao Bernardo Vieira’s appointment of close ally Aristides Gomes as prime minister to replace political rival and PAIGC leader Carlos Gomes Junior was constitutional.

The court ruled that the president was not obliged to name as head of government a member of the PAIGC, which won the last general elections and holds a majority in parliament.

President Vieira praised the high court ruling.

“This is a victory for the government and for the people of Guinea Bissau,” he said following the decision. He added that the ruling opens the way for the government to put in place fundamental reforms for the development of this former Portuguese colony, which is heavily dependent on foreign aid even to pay its civil servants.

But the PAIGC calls the ruling unacceptable.

“We respect the Supreme Court but we do not accept this decision because it compromises the future of democracy in Guinea Bissau,” Daniel Gomes, PAIGC spokesperson, told reporters on Friday.

“This decision gives the president absolute power and fails to take into account the results of legislative elections.”

The PAIGC took 45 of 100 seats in legislative elections in 2004. Last October, 14 parliamentarians defected from the party.

Frustrations in the heart of the main political party could sow trouble for the country still struggling to get back on its feet after a civil war in 1998-99.

Donors have long been concerned about lingering conflict, insisting on solid signs of political stability before reinvesting heavily in the country - ranked in the UN development index as the sixth poorest in the world.

PAIGC spokesman Gomes said on Friday, “We are asking that all political parties that care about democracy join forces to fight absolute power that is taking hold in our country.”