Thursday, August 13, 2015

Guinea Bissau government sacked by president

The BBC and Reuters reports this morning that "Guinea Bissau's President Jose Mario Vaz has dismissed the government of the fragile West African nation because of a deepening power struggle with the prime minister."

In the United States, it sounds funny to read a headline that the president dismissed the government, because in the US (presidential system), the president leads the government. But Guinea Bissau has a semi-presidential system, with a president head-of-state and a prime minister head-of-government, and the prime minister leads the cabinet. But the president can sack the prime minister in Guinea Bissau. I suppose now the president will nominate a new prime minister, and a majority of the parliament will need to agree, or else new elections will be held. The article doesn't mention elections so I don't think we're at that point yet.

There is a whole blog about semipresidential systems, called "The semipresidential one," at You can click through there to read some coverage of Guinea Bissau's previous coups.

Usually political conflict in a semipresidential system is the result of "co-habitation," in which the president (elected directly by voters) is from one party and the prime minister (elected by legislators) is from another party. In the Guinea Bissau case today, however, both the president and prime minister are from the same party, the African Party for the Independence of Guinea and Cape Verde (PAIGC). The PAIGC ran Guinea Bissau from independence in 1973 until 1999 (mostly under single party rule or military council rule) and also ruled Cape Verde, also a former Portuguese colony, from independence in 1975 until 1980.

There are concerns that the conflict between the president and the prime minister will lead to a coup. Since multiparty elections were introduced in 1994, no elected leader has finished a full term. Previous coups included 1980, against the first president, Luis Cabral (of the PAIGC party) by Prime Minister Joao Bernardo Vieira (also of the PAIGC party). Vieira ruled until1999, when he was overthrown in a coup. Then Kumba Ialá of the PRS party won the presidency in 1999; in 2001 he sacked his prime minister, and then in 2003 he is overthrown in a coup. Vieira returns from exile in Portugal in 2005 and wins the presidency. He sacks one prime minister that same year, in 2007 another prime minister resigns, in 2008 he dissolves the parliament which leads to another prime minister losing office, and then in 2009 Vieira is shot dead by mutinous soldiers. In 2009, a PAIGC candidate wins the presidency, but after surviving a coup attempt in 2011 he dies in hospital in 2012. Soldiers then topple the interim government. In 2014, Jose Mario Vaz of the PAIGC won the presidency.

The conflict between the fellow PAIGC members was described by the BBC: "The two men are said to have disagreed on a number of issues including the use of aid money and the return to Guinea-Bissau of a former army chief of staff."

Getting back to institutional categories (because who can ever get enough of that topic? Not me...), Guinea Bissau's specific form of semipresidentialism is of the variation "president-parliamentary" rather than "premier-presidential." Robert Elgie, who writes "the semipresidential one" blog, argues that president-parliamentary systems are the less stable, and his book uses Guinea Bissau as an example. In a president-parliamentary system, the president relies on the prime minister to lead the cabinet, but because he can remove the prime minister, he has little incentive to work cooperatively. In a premier-presidential system, on the other hand, it is the legislature, not the president, that has the power to remove the prime minister, and so the president has a greater incentive to find common political ground with the prime minister.

Here is more on categorization of semipresidential systems, if you're interested. These are all quotes from Shugart (2005).

Adapting from Duverger's (1980) original and influential definition, semi-presidentialism may be defined by three features:
A president who is popularly elected;
The president has considerable constitutional authority;
There exists also a prime minister and cabinet, subject to the confidence of the assembly majority.
These features define a dual executive (Blondel, 1984), in that the elected president is not merely a head of state who lacks political authority,2 but also is not clearly the 'chief' executive, because of the existence of a prime minister who may not be strictly a subordinate of the president....

... in a parliamentary system the assembly (or more accurately in actual practice the party or parties comprising the majority) selects the cabinet and also may dismiss it. In a presidential system, the president both selects and may dismiss the cabinet. In semi-presidential systems, on the other hand, a key feature is that the institution that selects an agent may not be the same one empowered to dismiss that agent

...  in a typical premier-presidential system, the president selects the prime minister who heads the cabinet, but authority to dismiss the cabinet rests exclusively with the assembly majority. The fact that a president in such a system cannot guarantee that his or her preferred cabinet can remain in place is both what separates these systems from pure presidential systems and is a feature that restricts the president's real choice of prime-ministerial candidate to someone he expects to be able to command parliamentary support (or at least acquiescence). Once appointed then, a cabinet that enjoys parliamentary confidence is not subordinated to the president but to parliament, and thus the relationship between president and cabinet is strictly speaking transactional. ...

In a typical president-parliamentary system, on the other hand, the president selects the cabinet and also retains the possibility of dismissal. In this sense, this form of semi-presidentialism is much closer to pure presidentialism and is the reason why the figure places the cabinet beneath the president, in contrast to the depiction of premier-presidentialism. Nonetheless, these systems are semi-presidential because the assembly majority may dismiss the cabinet even if the president would prefer to retain it. Thus the president and assembly must engage in transactions, as shown in the figure, but unlike in pure presidential systems these transactions are not only over policy-making. They are ongoing transactions over the composition and direction of the cabinet, brought on by the dual accountability that defines the president-parliamentary subtype.

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