Permanent Representative Blames Rainy Season Lateness in Delivering Election Kits, for Postponement of Legislative Elections
The international community should send a strong message that the authorities and other political actors in Guinea-Bissau must demonstrate the requisite political will to hold credible legislative elections without further delay, a senior United Nations political affairs official told the Security Council today.
“The period leading to legislative and presidential elections will be critical,” Taye-Brook Zerihoun, Assistant Secretary-General for Political Affairs, emphasized during a briefing on recent developments in the West African country. In the wake of an 11-month civil war, the United Nations Integrated Peacebuilding Office in Guinea-Bissau (UNIOGBIS) and its predecessor mission, the United Nations Peacebuilding Support Office in Guinea-Bissau (UNOGBIS), have been present in the country since 1999.
“There is still hope for the country to move forward, and its political leadership can show good faith and meet its national obligations by holding legislative elections on 10 March 2019,” said Mr. Zerihoun, referring to the change of date from 18 November, when voters were initially scheduled to vote. About 800,000 citizens, or about 95 per cent of the country’s total estimated voting-eligible population, were reported to have been registered as of 12 December, he added. Regarding the possible reconfiguration of UNIOGBIS, he said that its eventual exit could take place by the end of 2020.
Also briefing the 15-member Council was Mauro Vieira (Brazil), Chair of the Peacebuilding Commission’s Guinea-Bissau Configuration, who noted that political parties in the country continue to disagree over technical aspects of voter registration, trading accusations of attempted fraud and deliberately delaying the process, while creating an unhealthy pre-electoral atmosphere. Stability is also affected by the view that some would be interested in further postponing the legislative vote in order to combine it with the presidential election in 2019, he added.
He went on to state that economic growth is projected to decline to 3.8 per cent from 5.9 per cent in 2017, adding that total spending on education remains low at 2.2 per cent of gross domestic product (GDP). A series of strikes affected public sector activities, he said, noting that State-owned schools have been closed for months and that teachers have organized demonstrations to demand their salaries.
In the ensuing discussion, Council members exchanged views on the new election timetable, with Sweden’s delegate expressing regret over the postponement of the elections and the inadequate preparations. Considering that the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) set January as a deadline, he called upon the Government urgently to ensure the conditions for free and fair democratic elections and that there is no further delay.
Equatorial Guinea’s delegate said it is sensible to rethink the United Nations presence but emphasized the need for firm political will to face a wide range of changes on the part of the Guinea-Bissau authorities. Support is needed for reforming institutions, after which more partners will be needed to help advance sustainable development, he added.
The United States joined other delegations in urging all stakeholders to foster unity and to implement the 2016 Conakry Agreement in full in order to ensure that elections are carried out without delay. “It is critical that there be no further delays or slippage in the election calendar,” that country’s representative emphasized.
Peru’s delegate stressed, however, that elections are just one step to peace and stability. Building a safe and stable country requires fighting drug trafficking and organized crime, preventing violent extremism, growing the economy, reducing poverty and achieving sustainable development, he said.
As for the proposed drawdown of UNIOGBIS, the United Kingdom’s representative said his delegation is committed to a phased approach, with a transition of responsibility to national authorities and the United Nations country team. He urged the development of a clear plan for that purpose, affirming that a new partnership with the United Nations will be needed as reform will take time and the authorities must be supported in the process.
The representative of the Netherlands called for setting benchmarks not linked to time but, rather, based on achieving qualitative benchmarks, including completion of the electoral cycle and the subsequent formation of a Guinea-Bissau Government.
Guinea-Bissau’s delegate, describing the Conakry Agreement as a road map for his country’s emergence from crisis, explained that the legislative elections were postponed due to delays in mobilizing funds and delivering election kits, as well as the arrival of the rainy season.
Also speaking today were representatives of Bolivia, France, Russian Federation, China, Poland, Kuwait, Kazakhstan and Côte d’Ivoire.
The meeting began at 10:17 a.m. and ended at 11:57 a.m.
TAYE-BROOK ZERIHOUN, Assistant Secretary-General for Political Affairs, said that more than six months after the appointment of a consensus Prime Minister and the formation of an inclusive Government, both key elements of the Conakry Agreement, the political situation in Guinea-Bissau remains fraught with uncertainty. Due to technical challenges, he added, legislative elections were not held on 18 November as scheduled, in contravention of legal and constitutional time frames. Despite the delay, the Government declared the completion of voter registration on Wednesday, he noted, recalling that the process had been suspended but resumed after the intervention of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS). The ECOWAS delegation issued a communiqué calling for holding the legislative elections in January, but the Prime Minister proposed holding them on 17 February, while 24 February and 10 March were floated as possible alternative dates, he said. However, President José Mário Vaz issued a decree on Thursday, setting 10 March 2019 as the new election date, he added.
He went on to report that some allegations of voter-registration mismanagement have been raised, he said, adding that an ECOWAS technical team comprising two election experts is presently in Bissau to audit the process, and is expected to submit a report on its findings to the Government and to the ECOWAS Commission. Noting that about 800,000 citizens, or about 95 per cent of the total estimated eligible population, were reported as having been registered to vote as of 12 December, he said the international community should consider sending a strong message on the need for the Guinea-Bissau authorities and other political actors to demonstrate the requisite political will to organize credible legislative elections and refrain from delaying the process further.
The findings of the assessment by the United Nations Integrated Peace-building Office in Guinea-Bissau (UNIOGBIS) underscore the challenging political context in which the mission operates, he continued, adding that it merits recognition for its crucial role in support of the ECOWAS-led mediation process to resolve the political impasse in country. Cautioning that Guinea-Bissau risks lurching from one political crisis to another unless the Government takes decisive steps to meet the new election date decreed by the President, he emphasized the Secretary-General’s recommendation that the United Nations focus strictly on good offices, the coordination of international partners, the promotion of human rights, the incorporation of a gender perspective on peacebuilding, and combating drug trafficking and transitional organized crime, in close cooperation with the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC).
These tasks, he continued, should occur over three phases: the electoral period through mid-2019; the immediate post-electoral period until the end of 2018; and the transition and exit period lasting no longer than the end of 2020. The Secretary-General has endorsed a further reconfiguration of the United Nations presence during the second phase through the establishment of a streamlined good offices mission in Bissau, led by a Special Representative of the Secretary-General and focused primarily on facilitating the political process, he said. This mission would then continue to draw down until the end of 2020, while the United Nations Office for West Africa and the Sahel (UNOWAS) would increase its engagement in Guinea-Bissau.
He went on to underline the need to strengthen the capacities of the United Nations country team so that it can take on further responsibilities going into the transition, drawdown and closure phases. Emphasizing his expectation that the Peacebuilding Commission’s Guinea-Bissau Configuration will play a leading role during the transition phase, he said the period leading up to legislative and presidential elections will be critical. However, there is still hope for the country to move forward, he noted, stressing that its political leadership can demonstrate good faith and meet its national obligations by holding the legislative elections on 10 March 2019.
MAURO VIEIRA (Brazil), Chair of the Peacebuilding Commission’s Guinea-Bissau Configuration, said that, according to his conversation with José Viegas Filho, Special Representative of the Secretary-General and Head of UNIOGBIS, Guinea-Bissau’s political parties continue to disagree over technical aspects of voter registration, trading accusations of attempted fraud and deliberately delaying the process while creating an unhealthy pre-electoral atmosphere. Stability is also affected by the view that some would be interested in postponing the legislative vote in order to combine it with the presidential election in 2019, he said, adding that it was mentioned during the discussion that some political stakeholders could find it financially difficult to organize two elections in the same semester.
He went on to state that the Government announced the end of voter registration on 19 December, indicating that more than 95 per cent of estimated potential voters were registered. Yesterday, President Vaz published a decree establishing 10 March 2019 as the new date for the legislative elections. A call for contributions to the Election Basket Fund administered by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) was positively answered and financing is no longer an issue because the Fund has collected up to $9.8 million, he said, noting that Nigeria and Timor-Leste have provided several voter registration kits, Portugal will provide the actual ballot papers and UNDP has offered another batch of registration equipment and consumables for polling day, he added.
The Peacebuilding Commission learned at its meeting on 10 December about the President’s 3 December promulgation of the Gender Parity Law, he said, noting that it establishes a 36 per cent quota of for women parliamentary candidates and representation in public sector institutions. Noting that the Permanent Observer of ECOWAS made an intervention during at that meeting, he said the bloc’s influence remains important given its key role in the Conakry Agreement and the military presence of the ECOWAS Mission in Guinea-Bissau (ECOMIB), which had its mandate extended until August 2019.
He went on to state that the meeting also heard from the World Bank regarding the country’s economic and fiscal situation, which remains severely strained. Economic growth is projected to decline to 3.8 per cent from 5.9 per cent in 2017, he said, adding that tax revenues are also expected to drop, from 10.3 per cent of gross domestic product (GDP) in 2017 to 8.5 per cent in 2018, or from $140 million to $115 million, mainly due to lower revenue from the export of cashew nuts. The decline in economic activity and the consequent fall in imports also contributed to that scenario, he said, noting also that total spending on education, dominated by salaries, remains low at 2.2 per cent of GDP.
Turning to the socioeconomic and political environment, he said Guinea-Bissau has seen a series of strikes affecting public sector activities. State-owned schools have been closed for months, and teachers have organized demonstrations to demand their salaries, he added, pointing out that an estimated $7.8 million is needed to pay 18 months of accumulated salaries for teachers. Also, a series of strikes and demonstrations by civil servants and former combatants have occurred over the past few months. Unfortunately, students demonstrations organized on 9 November were suppressed by force, resulting in the President’s dismissal of the Minister for the Interior.
Calling upon the international community to consider providing targeted emergency budget support to stabilize the public sector, he also encouraged the Government of Guinea-Bissau to do more to demonstrate its full commitment to holding elections and put credible mechanisms in place to guarantee proper and transparent use of available assistance. He went on to underline that the Peacebuilding Commission, in its advisory role to the Security Council, can make positive contributions to the discussion about the reconfiguration of UNIOGBIS, which should be consistent with a revised electoral calendar and transition plan considering the proposed drawdown of ECOMIB.
TAYE ATSKESELASSIE AMDE (Ethiopia) emphasized that strong political will and sense of ownership remain critical to supporting the consolidation of peace in Guinea-Bissau and called upon all stakeholders to exert their collective efforts towards that end. Noting that the electoral process dominates the current political environment, he stressed the importance of timely and credible legislative and presidential elections, conducted in accordance with the constitution and national law, for consolidating sustainable peace and reconciliation. Describing the growing threats of drug trafficking and religious extremism is matters of serious concern, he underlined the need for concerted efforts to address them at the national, regional and international levels.
JOB OBIANG ESONO MBENGONO (Equatorial Guinea), stressing the importance of the electoral process for Guinea-Bissau’s stability, welcomed the implementation of confidence-building measures intended to facilitate voting in a calm environment. Noting the delays in the process, he called upon the parties to consider further means for putting the Conakry Agreement’s remaining provisions in place. Acknowledging that it is sensible to rethink the United Nations presence, he said that a special political mission could continue to help Guinea-Bissau overcome its problems, emphasizing the need for firm political will and national ownership by national authorities to face a wide range of changes. Support is needed for reforming institutions, after which more partners will be needed to help advance sustainable development in Guinea-Bissau, he said, stressing that it is crucial for all parties to remain united to face the challenges ahead.
STEPHEN HICKEY (United Kingdom) expressed concern that Guinea-Bissau’s progress may again be in jeopardy, affirming the importance of UNIOGBIS in mobilizing support for implementation of the Conakry Agreement. Welcoming the announcement of a March election date after the disappointment of earlier delays, he called for progress on the Stability Pact, emphasizing that political instability must not be allowed to threaten gains. The United Kingdom is committed to a phased drawdown of UNIOGBIS, with a transition of responsibility to national authorities and the United Nations country team, he said. Urging the development of a clear plan for that purpose, he asserted that a new partnership with the United Nations will be needed because reform will take time and the authorities must be supported. The United Nations country team and other important actors will also be critical, he stressed, saying he looks forward to starting the new year with detailed discussions on forging a new partnership with Guinea-Bissau.
RODNEY M. HUNTER (United States) expressed regret that yet another self-inflicted political wound has been seen in the form of the delays in implementing the Conakry Agreement and conducting elections. “This has to end now,” he said, emphasizing the critical need to avoid further delays or slippage in the election calendar. Welcoming the progress made on voter registration, he said that he nevertheless remains concerned over such incidents as the blocking of technicians. He urged all stakeholders to foster unity and full implementation of the Conakry Agreement while ensuring that the elections are carried out without delay. He also welcomed the report’s recommendations, saying his delegation supports, in principle, the three-phased drawdown of UNIOGBIS. Underlining the crucial importance of preventing a return to political gridlock, he said the transition strategy must maintain the gains achieved and clearly assign responsibilities for the way ahead.
CARL ORRENIUS SKAU (Sweden) expressed regret over the postponement of the election and inadequate preparations. Considering that ECOWAS set January as a deadline, he called on the Government to urgently ensure conditions for free and fair democratic elections and no further delay of legislative elections. Moreover, the United Nations must conduct a timely and integrated transition planning process, with predictable resources and adequate capacity for the country team, as the experience in Liberia has demonstrated. “For a transition to be sustainable, it must be based on national peacebuilding priorities as well as political will, local ownership and inclusiveness,” he noted. Regional engagement will be critical and should be backed by coherent international support. Such support, including for reforms, must be sustained in the delicate post-electoral phase.
FRANCISCO TENYA (Peru) noted with concern repeated delays in holding legislative elections, expressing hope that the polls can take place on 10 March 2019, as decreed by the country’s President. Continued postponement will have negative impacts on the organization of presidential elections scheduled later this year. He called for the greater participation of women and young people and inclusive polls engaging all political forces. Elections, however, are just one step to peace and stability. Building a safe and stable country requires fighting drug trafficking and organized crime, preventing violent extremism, growing the economy, reducing poverty and achieving sustainable development.
LISE GREGOIRE VAN HAAREN (Netherlands) said a phased transition would be necessary in any possible exit scenario for UNIOGBIS, which cannot be assumed based on resolution 2404 (2018). If the Council contemplates an exit, she called for setting benchmarks that are not linked to time, but rather, based on achieving qualitative benchmarks in Guinea-Bissau. These should include completion of the electoral cycle and the subsequent formation of a Government. Expressing regret that legislative elections scheduled for 18 November have not taken place, she took note of the Presidential decree setting 10 March as election day. However, this date is not in accordance with the January deadline stipulated in the ECOWAS communiqué, she observed. Free, fair, credible and transparent legislative polls must take place prior to presidential elections, she stressed, noting that combining those elections remains unacceptable. Moreover, she highlighted the importance of signing a stability pact and of the urgent need for constitutional reform.
VERÓNICA CORDOVA SORIA (Bolivia) noted with concern that the situation in Guinea-Bissau has not seen substantial improvement. Therefore, to keep the momentum of the stabilization process going, international support is vital, especially for the holding of the previously-delayed elections in a fair and peaceful manner. She called for all stakeholders in Guinea-Bissau to demonstrate clear political will and renew commitments to overcome challenges. A priority is the fight against drug trafficking and crime, which must be supported through capacity-building. Welcoming the range of international and regional partnerships with the country, she highlighted the importance of deepening links between the Council and the Peacebuilding Commission. To achieve sustainable peace in Guinea-Bissau it is essential to improve the well-being of the people, especially the most vulnerable.
ANNE GUEGUEN (France), welcoming the progress in implementing the Conakry agreement, particularly the consensus reached on a Prime Minister, paid tribute to the Group of Five [African Union, ECOWAS, Community of Portuguese Language Countries, European Union and the United Nations] assisting Guinea-Bissau. Strong support will be needed in the coming weeks for prompt conduct of legislative elections. Expressing regret at the previous delay of the electoral timeline, she called on authorities to mobilize for the timely holding of those polls and overcome any obstacles. Welcoming the military’s vow of non-interference in politics, she stressed that authorities must prioritize the fight against drug trafficking and other crime as well as institutional reform. A reconfigured United Nations presence should maintain a strong good-offices role and ensure streamlined cooperation on the ground and delivery of technical assistance. The coming months will provide strong indications of whether Guinea-Bissau is emerging from its complex problems and the Council’s attention on developments is therefore of great importance.
DMITRY A. POLYANSKIY (Russian Federation) said that recent developments, in particular the delay in holding legislative elections, are cause for great concern amid the already dire socioeconomic and humanitarian conditions. Warning that the situation is inching towards turmoil, he emphasized that social and political actors should act responsibly to avoid it. The United Nations presence serves uniquely as a guarantor of national reconciliation, he noted. Regarding the strategic assessment of UNIOGBIS, he said that his delegation is of the view that reconfiguration must be carried out in a balanced manner, cautioning that a hasty drawdown could lead to a greater fracture of society and chip away at institutional strength. Reconfiguration should be undertaken only after the electoral process is complete and the political process is back on track, he stressed.
WU HAITAO (China) took note of the analysis contained in the Secretary-General’s special report, the mediation efforts undertaken by ECOWAS, as well as the new date for legislative elections, 10 March 2019. He said the international community must provide technical, financial and logistical support, underlining the importance of respecting Guinea-Bissau’s sovereignty, territorial integrity and independence. Differences must be resolved through dialogue, he said, adding that China supports African solutions to African problems.
KAMIL KRZYSZTOF MIELUS (Poland) expressed concern over reported delays in preparations for legislative elections, which represent a crucial step towards resuming peacebuilding and an important element of the Conakry agreement. Maintaining UNIOGBIS with its current strength and mandate is crucial to ensuring the Mission’s full capacity in accompanying the electoral process. Moreover, it is important to ensure that the Mission’s exit is managed in order to maintain gains achieved, he observed, expressing support for the Secretary-General’s recommendation to establish a streamlined good offices political mission following the end of the electoral cycle. ECOWAS and regional leaders must maintain Guinea-Bissau on their agenda both during this period and after it, when the country will need international assistance to implement a reform agenda.
TAREQ M. A. M. ALBANAI (Kuwait) expressed regret over delays in legislative election in Guinea-Bissau, while expressing appreciation for the role of UNIOGBIS in resolving the issue. Welcoming, in that context, the announcement of a March election date, he stressed that all stakeholders must now work to ensure that the new timeline is met. He welcomed support by neighbouring countries and other partners in that effort. He also welcomed the UNIOGBIS draw-down plan and expressed readiness to consider all the elements involved soon. Parties must cooperate with the transition plan contained in the report, he said, stressing that regional organizations and the Peacebuilding Commission must be given their due role.
KANAT TUMYSH (Kazakhstan), welcoming efforts towards stability, called for the timely conclusion of legislative elections as well as support from the international community and regional stakeholders. He stressed the importance of the Conakry Agreement, noting that it sets out the reform agenda, including a constitutional review, strengthening governance, and the need to develop guiding principles for reform, among them greater participation by women and youth. He went on to underline the need to maintain close cooperation with UNODC in fighting drug trafficking. Kazakhstan supports plans for UNIOGBIS to exit by the end of 2020, he said.
GBOLIÉ DÉSIRÉ WULFRAN IPO (Côte d’Ivoire), Council President for December, spoke in his national capacity, taking note of the new date set for legislative elections. Emphasizing that the reconfiguration of UNOGBIS will lead to greater efficiency on the ground, he said the mission, together with ECOWAS, will shoulder a key preventive role. The timetable for the mission’s three-phase transition and exit will help to mobilize the necessary international support, especially cooperation among ECOWAS, the African Union, United Nations, the Group of Portuguese-speaking Countries and the European Union, he said.
FERNANDO DELFIM DA SILVA (Guinea-Bissau) highlighted the Conakry Agreement’s importance, describing the accord as a roadmap for his country’s emergence from crisis. However, the legislative elections were postponed from the initial date of 18 November for a number of reasons, including delays in mobilizing funds and delivering election kits, and the arrival of the rainy season. He said 95 per cent of eligible voters have now been registered. After consultations with political actors, the President issued a decree setting 10 March 2019 as the new date for the elections, he added, asking for patience and solidarity.