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Guinea-Bissau: Constitutional Limits on the Presidential Elections

The first round of the presidential elections in Guinea Bissau, brought forward to 18 March following the death of the previous president, Malam Bacai Sanhá, earlier this year, may have featured a number of irregularities [pt] that would undermine the second round of voting, planned for 22 April.

Those contesting the result include Kumba Ialá, former president and leader of the main opposition party, the PRS (Partido da Renovação Social, Social Renewal Party), who received 23.36% of the votes. Ialá is calling [pt] for the ballot to be declared invalid and for voters to be registered afresh, and refusing to participate in the run-off with Carlos Gomes Junior, Prime Minister and candidate for the renowned PAIGC (Partido Africano para a Independência da Guiné e Cabo Verde, African Party for the Independence of Guinea and Cape Verde), which received 48.97% of the vote.

Assembleia de Voto. Foto de Helena Ferro de Gouveia no Facebook

A polling station. Photo by Helena Ferro de Gouveia, on Facebook (used with permission)

A statement delivered by five of the candidates denounces ‘hidden electoral registers, fake voting cards, double voting, fake polling stations and the illegal movement of voters and election material’, as reported [pt] by the Público newspaper.

Sónia Ferreira, from the Forte Apache blog, adds [pt]:

Serifo Nhamadjo [15,75%], Henrique Rosa [5,4%], Serifo Baldé [0,46%] , Afonso Té [1,38%] e Kumba Ialá, alegam ter ocorrido fraude generalizada e actos de corrupção durante as eleições.

Cerca de metade dos guineenses inscritos nos cadernos eleitorais não votaram nas eleições presidenciais, no que constitui a mais alta taxa de abstenção, cerca de 45 por cento,  alguma vez vista nas eleições na Guiné-Bissau.

Serifo Nhamadjo [15.75% of the vote], Henrique Rosa [5.4%], Serifo Baldé [0.46%], Afonso Té [1.38%] and Kuma Ialá claim that there has been widespread fraud and corruption during the elections.

Approximately half of Bissau-Guineans on the electoral roll did not vote in the presidential elections, making this the highest rate of abstention ever seen in elections in Guinea-Bissau, at around 45%.

In spite of the apparently unrelated assassination [pt] of the former head of the intelligence service, Colonel Samba Djaló, only a few hours after the polls closed, the presidential elections were praised by Bissau-Guineans and the international community alike for having taken place ‘in an orderly and peaceful manner’.

That is how the Portuguese journalist Helena Ferro de Gouveia, born in Guinea-Bissau and back there to cover the elections for Deutsche Welle, describes [pt] the elections on her blog, Domadora de Camaleões. She also depicts the ‘mess’ that followed, surrounding the vote-counting and announcement of the election results:

À medida que iam sendo contados os votos, contagem manual note-se, a informação ia sendo transmitida de forma informal, quer a candidatos, quer a jornalistas, quer a observadores. Na véspera do anúncio dos resultados preliminares, Carlos Gomes Júnior liderava com maioria absoluta, segundo o “boca a boca”. Isto explica a tomada de posição de Kumba Ialá (e de outros quatro candidatos, Henrique Rosa, Serifo Nhamadjo, Serifo Balde e Afonso Té), que acabaria por passar à segunda volta, de “recusar todos os resultados” e pedir a anulação das eleições.

Só que na quarta-feira de manhã [21 de Março], com o apuramento dos votos em falta, Gomes Júnior falharia por uma margem escassa (obteve 49 por cento de votos) a vitória à primeira volta e o controverso Kumba Ialá (23 por cento) como segundo candidato mais votado deveria disputar uma segunda volta. Acontece que Kumba não quer, alegando fraude na primeira volta do escrutínio, e agora procura-se uma solução para o imbróglio.

Candidates, journalists and onlookers were being given unofficial updates as the votes were being counted by hand. On the eve of the announcement of the preliminary results, Carlos Gomes Junior was leading with an absolute majority, according to the word on the street. This explains why Kumba Ialá and the four other candidates, Henrique Rosa, Serifo Nhamadjo, Serifo Balde and Afonso Té, took the stance that they did, urging a new round of voting, rejecting all results and calling for the outcome to be declared invalid.

However, on the morning of Wednesday 21 March, when the missing votes were counted, it was found that Gomes Junior had fallen just short of victory in the first round, with 49% of the vote. As the second-place candidate, the controversial Kumba Ialá, with 23%, might have contested a second round. He chose not to do so, alleging instead that the first ballot was fraudulent, and is now looking for a way out of this muddle.

A constitutional “muddle”

Article 64 of the Constitution of the Republic [pt] of Guinea-Bissau states that the President should be elected by an absolute majority, and that if no candidate obtains an absolute majority in the first round, a new ballot should take place within 21 days, in which only the two candidates with the greatest number of votes should stand.

Early presidential elections, 2012. In the second round Carlos Gomes Junior will stand against Kumba Ialá. Images from the blog Ditadura do Consenso (used with permission).

Early presidential elections, 2012. In the second round Carlos Gomes Junior will stand against Kumba Ialá. Images from the blog Ditadura do Consenso (used with permission).

Ialá’s refusal to participate in the second round of the presidential elections allows for the possibility that the April ballot will take place with a single candidate – Carlos Gomes Junior. Quoting the Guinean lawyer Juliano Fernandes, former Attorney General of Guinea-Bissau and current professor at the Bissau Law Faculty, Helena Ferro de Gouveia says:

Neste caso, o candidato terá de se sujeitar à votação para confirmar ou não a eleição, salientou.”Sendo essa a interpretação, no caso de desistência do outro candidato, o outro (o mais votado) concorre sozinho, ainda que se possa questionar a legitimidade democrática por se ter concorrido sozinho”.

In this case, the candidate would have to be subject to a vote in order to confirm the result of the election. Fernandes adds that, ‘as this is the interpretation of the law, if the other candidate withdraws, the remaining candidate – the one with the most votes – runs alone, even though one might question the democratic legitimacy of such a vote, given that there is only one candidate’.

Fernando Casimiro has conducted a lengthy analysis [pt] on his blog, Didinho, on the constitution and electoral law, calling attention to ‘some matters of paramount importance to be taken into consideration before seeking to terminate a process which may be slow in yielding an outcome’:

O primeiro aspecto a considerar será necessariamente a resposta às reivindicações de um grupo constituído por cinco candidatos (incluindo o segundo mais votado) formalmente apresentadas à Comissão Nacional de Eleições.

O segundo aspecto é, por via do primeiro, o pronunciamento da Comissão Nacional de Eleições sobre as reivindicações apresentadas pelos cinco candidatos contestatários.

Satisfeita ou não as reivindicações, pode haver publicação ou não dos resultados oficiais finais, com a marcação ou adiamento da data da realização da segunda volta.

O adiamento deve ser considerado porque em caso de insatisfação quanto às suas reivindicações e por direito, o grupo de candidatos contestatários pode avançar com a reivindicação para o Supremo Tribunal de Justiça que deverá pronunciar-se sobre o assunto. Tempo a correr, tempo a passar…

Só depois do pronunciamento do Supremo Tribunal de Justiça quanto às reivindicações apresentadas pelo grupo dos cinco candidatos contestatários é que a Comissão Nacional de Eleições poderá anunciar os resultados finais oficiais.

Se depois disso, esgotando-se o processo reivindicativo, com o pedido de anulação do escrutínio feito pelos contestatários, o segundo candidato mais votado decidir formalmente pela desistência ou pela recusa em participar na segunda volta, deve ter-se em atenção a interpretação em relação a desistência e recusa ou rejeição… em função dos motivos, das razões evocadas pelo candidato em questão.

Consideration needs to be given in the first place to providing a response to the demands of the group of five candidates, including the one who received the second highest number of votes, which were formally submitted to the National Electoral Committee.

In conjunction with this, the National Electoral Committee also needs to issue a statement on the demands of the five candidates who have contested the outcome.Whether or not these demands are met, there is also the question of whether the final official results should be made public, along with setting or postponing the date for the second round of voting to be carried out.

Postponement should be considered, as, under law, if their demands have not been met, the group of candidates who are contesting the result may present them to the Supreme Court of Justice, who will rule on the matter. And that all takes time…

Only after the pronouncement by the Supreme Court of Justice on the demands submitted by the group of five candidates contesting the result can the National Electoral Committee announce the official results.

If, after this process has been carried out, and the call for the ballot to be deemed invalid has been made by those contesting the result, the candidate with the second highest number of votes formally decides to withdraw from or refuse to participate in the second round, the interpretation of the law as regards withdrawal or refusal should be applied, in the light of the motives and reasons given by the candidate in question.

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