The man appointed interim president of Guinea-Bissau by the side beaten in the December presidential election has stepped down because of death threats, less than two days after being nominated.
“Given the death threats against me and my bodyguards, I have decided to give up the role of interim president for which I was nominated, to avoid a bloodbath in Guinea-Bissau,” said Cipriano Cassama.
“I fear for my physical integrity,” he said in a press statement, less than 48 hours after he was appointed by the country’s historic ruling party, the PAIGC.
“My life and that of my family is in danger. I have no security,” he said, adding that soldiers had come for his bodyguards on Friday. But he said he would stay on as leader of the National Assembly.
The PAIGC has dominated political life since the former Portuguese colony won independence in 1974, and on Friday 54 of its deputies, out of the 102 parliamentary seats, appointed Cassama interim president.
Two rival contenders for the presidency have been battling to assume power since the December 29 run-off vote.
Opposition leader Umaro Sissoco Embalo 47, won 53.55 per cent of the votes in the second-round vote, according to the National Electoral Commission.
Domingos Simoes Pereira, 56, also from PAIGC, won 46.45 per cent but denounced the result as fraudulent.
The Supreme Court, responding to a petition by the PAIGC, ordered a check of the vote tally sheets, but this has failed to resolve the dispute, with a row breaking out between the Supreme Court and the election panel.
On Thursday, Embalo conducted his own presidential swearing-in ceremony and moved into the presidential palace, without waiting for a final ruling from the Supreme Court.
On Friday, he appointed Nuno Gomes Nabiam as prime minister after sacking the internationally recognised incumbent Aristides Gomes.
Embalo, a former prime minister who fell out with the ruling party, styled himself as the outsider in the election campaign. He has vowed to break with the decades-long domination of the PAIGC.
But after soldiers occupied the prime minister’s office on Friday evening, according to an AFP correspondent, Gomes denounced what he described as “attempted coup”, in a statement on his Facebook page.
Guinea-Bissau has suffered chronic instability since independence, with the army often playing a major role. The country has suffered four coups and 16 attempted coups since 1974, the last one in 2012.
One of the world’s poorest countries, it is also ranked as one of the most corrupt.
Drug traffickers use it as a transit point, moving cocaine in from Latin America towards Europe, with the suspected cooperation of army officers.
In the latest development, Guinea-Bissau’s newly sworn-in President Umaro Sissoco Embalo has now named Nuno Gomes Na Biam, a former presidential candidate, as the country’s new prime minister.
Biam’s appointment is a result of consensus, said Embalo, local media reported Saturday, quoting a presidential decree.
Biam ran as a candidate in the country’s presidential elections in late 2019 but was eliminated in the first round.
He rallied behind Embalo in the second round to compete with rival Domingos Simoes Pereira.
Embalo, 47, was sworn in Thursday by the parliament’s first Vice President Biam, defying a legal petition on official election results.
Several party leaders as well as outgoing President Jose Mario Vaz, attended the ceremony.
After his inauguration, however, Guinea’s parliament, where the Pereira’s party holds a majority, swore in Cipriano Cassama as interim president Friday, signaling a political crisis. Cassama resigned after 2 days.
Media reports said Embalo dismissed Aristides Gomes as prime minister Friday following Thursday’s swearing in ceremony.
Soldiers loyal to Embalo took control of national radio and public television buildings, and several public buildings including the government palace and the Palace of Justice in the capital of Bissau on Friday, according to a media report.
It said the army also surrounded offices of the former prime minister.
Embalo received 53.5% of votes during the election runoff held Dec. 29, against Pereira’s 46.45%, according to results announced by the National Election Commission.
But Pereira filed a petition to the Supreme Court challenging the results as rigged, whose final ruling is still pending.
Embalo belongs to Madem, an opposition party formed by PAIGC rebels. Pereira is also a former prime minister. Vaz was the first president of Guinea-Bissau in 25 years to have finished his term without being ousted in a military coup.
Guinea-Bissau witnessed multiple coup attempts since independence from Portugal in 1973, four of which were successful.