Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Guinea Bissau Prime Minister appointed against will of ruling party steps down following court decision

Last month, Guinea Bissau President Jose Mario Vaz dismissed his prime minister, Domingos Simões Pereira, to resolve what was described as a "deepening power struggle." Vaz said his fallout with Pereira stemmed partly from the appointment of a new armed forces chief, a key post in the small nation known as a hub in drug trafficking between South America and Europe.

Vaz and Pereira are both members of the ruling party, the PAIGC. When the "unified executive" emerged last year, it was predicted that the political decision process was "likely to run smoothly," but that apparently wasn't the case.

President Vaz appointed Baciro Dja to replace Pereira, and Dja was sworn in, but this was against the will of the PAIGC, who renominated the party leader Pereira. A PAIGC party official said the PAIGC "will never accept a constitutional coup d'etat. Neither the party nor the people of Guinea-Bissau will accept the nomination of Baciro Dja."

The Guinea Bissau Supreme Court agreed, and ruled Dja's appointment unconstitutional. Today, Dja announced he would submit a letter of resignation to the president.

Guinea Bissau has a semi-presidential system, which means that there is a strong president who is directly elected, but there is also a prime minister and cabinet accountable to the legislature. Guinea Bissau's semi-presidential system falls into the subcategory of "president-parliamentary" system, in which the president can dismiss the prime minister, rather than a premier-presidential system, in which only the legislature can dismiss the prime minister.

Despite the relative constitutional strength of the Guinea Bissau president, he appears to have overstepped his bounds by attempting to appoint a prime minister against the will of the majority party in the legislature (which is his own party). To be fair, the constitution is somewhat ambiguous on this point. According to Article 98 of an English translation of the constitution, "The Prime Minister is nominated by the President of the Republic in accordance with electoral results and after consulting with political parties represented in the National Popular Assembly." What does that mean, "consulting"? I guess the president could argue he consulted, they said no, and he nominated Dja anyway. The Supreme Court apparently decided that the meaning of "consult" is a little stronger than that, and he shouldn't defy the will of the legislature.

The United States Constitution is a little more clear about the role of the Senate in approving cabinet appointments by the president: according to Article II, Section 2, Clause 2, "[The President] shall nominate, and, by and with the Advice and Consent of the Senate, shall appoint Ambassadors, other public Ministers and Consuls, Judges of the supreme Court, and all other Officers of the United States, whose Appointments are not herein otherwise provided for, and which shall be established by Law ... "

The Supreme Court's decision in Guinea Bissau, and the resignation of Dja, is a promising sign that checks and balances are becoming institutionalized in the country. On the other hand, conflicts between presidents and prime ministers in Guinea Bissau have often resulted in military coups. Hopefully this power struggle will be resolved peacefully.

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