Bissau Tensions Increase as Leaders Meet to Resolve Crisis

BISSAU, GUINEA BISSAU Taxi driver Eduardo washes his blue car just a few blocks from the Presidential Palace of Guinea Bissau's leader, Mario Vaz.

He says the political stalemate � the country's parliament has not met in over two years � going on just down the road has led to a decrease in his income.

"The situation of the country is getting worse, nothing is getting better. The price of petrol is cheaper now, but food is more expensive," he said. "It's harder now to find customers. You just drive and drive and you have no customers. The roads are empty and everything has stopped."

The 21-year-old used to profit only about $5.50. But now he earns almost nothing after paying gas and the owner of the car for its use.

Eduardo is just one voice of many in this West African capital bemoaning the government's lack of action. Since August 2015, the parliament has not held session due to a disagreement between President Jose Mario Vaz and the PAIGC ruling party about who should be the prime minister.

The PAIGC won a majority of parliament seats in the last elections. So they say according to the constitution, they have the right to approve the best candidate for prime minister. But Vaz will not appoint their nominee. He dismissed their original choice, Domingos Simoes Pereira, in August of 2015.

The Conakry Agreements, reached in October 2016, were meant to solve the crisis. At the agreements, Vaz presented three names to PAIGC leaders to choose from for prime minister. PAIGC chose Augusto Olivais to rule the government, but Vaz named General Umaro Sissoco Embalo as prime minister.

The differing factions are meeting in the Nigerian capital, Abuja, Friday and Saturday to come to an agreement on who should lead the government. But a member of parliament for the PAIGC, Suzy Barbosa, said she has doubts the long-standing issues will be resolved.

"We have been having hope all these last years, all these times the president said he was going to make a change," she said.

Barbosa said a change must happen before the next elections, scheduled for April 2018.

"What we don't accept is to go to elections with this government, created by the president where we don't feel confidence in the people who are going to lead the process," she said.

She added that with the parliament standstill there is no government budget, and the economic effects are staggering.

"It's really bad. I think the country is not breathing," she said. "Our economy is completely suffocated. There will be a moment people won't be able to go on like this because they will be suffocated. They won't be able to live like this because with such a tension, something really bad can happen at any moment."

Protests against the president scheduled for this week were cancelled. Carlos Da Silva had planned to march. Da Silva is a spokesman for the civil society group known as the Movement of Conscious and Nonconformist Citizens. He said more needs to be done.

"The president must overturn the assembly and call for elections, general elections," he said. "Both presidential elections and legislative elections. This is what we want, because they are fighting, they are disputing over the power. The power is given by the people."

The president's supporters, such as Joaquim Batista Correia, member of the PRS party, say it is PAIGC that is holding up action. Fifteen members of the PAIGC party have defected to the president's side. Correia said they shot themselves in the foot by not reaching an agreement within their own party.

"There are 15 deputies who are not with their party, so they don't have a majority," he said. "We can have a consensus in democracy, and democracy is the majority."

Whether it's the PAIGC or the president who is at fault, for residents like Eduardo, an agreement cannot come soon enough.

Source: Voice of America