On 16 May a transition pact brokered by the Economic Community Of West African States (ECOWAS) and signed by all parties except the majority PAIGC [African Party for the Independence of Guinea and Cape Verde] – officially nominated Manuel Serifo Nhamadjo as Interim President of Guinea-Bissau for one year. The decision was made after weeks of political wrangling following a military coup on 12 April that interrupted presidential elections, in which ex- Prime Minister Carlos Gomes Junior from the PAIGC party was the clear front-runner. While many fear the decision to install Nhamadjo will lead to yet more division in the politically polarized nation, others just want the country to get back on track economically, since markets and basic services have more or less been at a standstill since the latest coup.
Nhamadjo, who ranked third in the first round of the presidential elections became head of the National Assembly when Interim President Raimundo Pereira – who was put in place after the death of President Malam Bacai Sanha – was deposed by military junta leaders.
Nhamadjo nominated ex-economist Rui Duarte Barros as Prime Minister after talks with all political parties except the PAIGC – the party of ex-Prime Minister Carlos Junior – which is boycotting the talks as they believe the decision to install Nhamadjo is unconstitutional.
Carlos Junior has said he will not recognize the ECOWAS decision, and calls for a return to constitutional order, saying on 16 May from the Portuguese capital, Lisbon, “I am the legitimately elected Prime Minister.” Junior and ex-Interim President Raimundo Pereira are currently being received by the Portuguese Prime Minister and President in Lisbon. Guinea-Bissau gained independence from Portugal in 1973.
When the military junta initially decided on 21 April to appoint failed presidential candidate Nhamadjo as president of a proposed two-year transitional government, having deposed Pereira and Gomes Junior, ECOWAS deemed the move “illegal”. The UN Security Council, the African Union (AU) and the Community of Portuguese-Speaking Countries (CPLP) also condemned it.
The ECOWAS-supported decision to appoint Nhamadjo as interim leader has angered supporters of Gomes Junior, who see him as the candidate of the military junta. ECOWAS “did not consider national interest and principles of the rule of law” in its decision, declared a statement on 14 May by the Civil Society Movement for Peace and Democracy.
PAIGC, which led the country to independence from Portugal, controls 67 of the 100 seats in the National Assembly and “has the legitimacy of a popular mandate”, said Vincent Foucher, a Guinea-Bissau analyst at the International Crisis Group (ICG), a conflict resolution think-tank. According to official results from the first round of the presidential election, when interrupted by the coup, Gomes Junior held 49 percent of the votes, while Nhamadjo came third with 16 percent.
PAIGC is split into factions and some observers surmise that some groups may rally behind Nhamadjo (who also belongs to the party) in order to buoy their role in the transitional government, but Gomes Junior retains majority support in the PAIGC.