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Ecowas split by Guinea Bissau election dispute

The drama around the political deadlock in Guinea Bissau continues on the sidelines of the 33rd Summit of the African Union (AU) in Addis Ababa.By Ngagne Diouf, Special Correspondent

The Heads of State and Government of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), meeting behind closed doors on Sunday in the Ethiopian capital, addressed the confusion rocking Guinea Bissau, which still has no president.

Following the December 29 presidential run-off, the National Electoral Commission (CNE) declared Umaro Sissoko Embalo, of the MADEM G-15, as winner of the poll with 53.55 percent of the votes cast, while his rival Domingos Simoes Pereira was adjudged to have polled 46.45 percent.

However after Pereira’s camp rejected the results and appealed to the country’s Supreme Court, a mediation team made up of the President of the ECOWAS Commission, the Nigerian Minister of Foreign Affairs and the Vice-president of Guinea agreed with CNE over a recount.

Despite this recount, the electoral body maintained the outcome of the polls, upholding Embalo’s victory.

Currently, the fate of Embalo as the country’s new leader remains in the hands of the Supreme Court, which must settle the electoral dispute to avoid Guinea Bissau from sliding into a major political crisis.

According to a well-informed source who attended the closed door meeting of the Ecowas leaders, the regional bloc gave the Supreme Court of Guinea Bissau a “six-day deadline” to proclaim the definitive winner of last month’s presidential run-off vote.

The ad hoc meeting was chaired by Niger’s president Mouhamadou Issoufou in his capacity as chairman of ECOWAS, in the presence of the President of the Commission of the regional bloc, Jean-Claude Kassi Broua and the Prime Minister of Guinea Bissau, Aristide Gomes.

Although he regards himself as Guinea Bissau’s newly elected president despite not yet being recognized by ECOWAS, Embalo came to Addis Ababa to participate in the AU Summit nonetheless.

However, despite his presence Embalo was not admitted to the hall where African heads of state and government gathered on Sunday for the opening of the summit,” the source says.

During the meeting, two opposing camps emerged namely those backing Embalo’s claim to the presidency and those who favour waiting for the final decision of the Supreme Court.

Senegalese President Macky Sall has argued for the validation of the results proclaimed by the CNE which would naturally mean recognising Embalo as Guinea Bissau’s president-elect.

Comparing Guinea Bissau to The Gambia after Yahya Jammeh was ousted in the 2016 election, President Sall believes that a protracted political deadlock over the disputed poll will only plunge the country into a new crisis.

According to the anonymous source, for the Senegalese leader,, “there has never been a meeting of ECOWAS without the crisis in Guinea Bissau on its agenda.”

On the other hand, his Guinean counterpart, Alpha Conde, whose relations with Embalo are deteriorating rapidly, responds with a “resounding no” against what he calls “destoyers” of Guinea-Bissau’s Supreme Court.

Conde holds that comparing Guinea Bissau and The Gambia is not right. 

He says Guinea’s CNE had issued the results, while for The Gambia, Jammeh had refused to recognize the victory of Adama Barrow, which was validated by the Supreme Court.

If Embalo’s pretentions about the presidency is allowed to stand, “any president can stand up and say he is elected by his country’s election commission without waiting for validation by the Supreme Court.”

Meanwhile Gambia’s Vice-President, Isatou Touray, representing President Barrow at the meeting was reported to have, recalled the role of the regional ibloc and Senegal in the resolution of her country’s political and electoral crisis in 2016. 

Although she did not explicitly declare support for one or the other camp in Guinea Bissau, Touray pleaded the case for a “stable region, free from conflict.”

At the round table, the Prime Minister of Guinea-Bissau, Aristide Gomes, who is recognized by ECOWAS since his appointment in November 2019, gave his version of events in his country without much ado.

“I am a member of PAIGC (from Domingos Simoes Pereira’s side), but here I represent my country and not my party. You may not understand the provisions of our constitution. Though Guinea Bissau is a small country, at least we respect our constitution and I am not obsessed with the post of Prime Minister,” our source says.

That was a ‘radical’ response from the Premier, who would have otherwise been expelled from the room, as ordered by the President of the ECOWAS Commission, had it not been for the intervention of Ivorian President Alassane Ouattara, who saw him as “the legitimate representative of his country.”

By February 15, which is the deadline set by ECOWAS, the Supreme Court will have to examine all complaints and make a final decision.

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