By Alberto Dabo
BISSAU (Reuters) -Guinea-Bissau President Umaro Sissoco Embalo dissolved parliament in a decree on Monday that accused the government of passivity in the face of violence last week that he said was an attempted coup.
His move left the unstable West African nation without a lawmaking body for the second time since he came to power in 2020, raising the prospect of further turmoil. New elections would be held at an unspecified future date, he said.
The announcement was quickly dismissed as unconstitutional by one of his main rivals – Domingos Simoes Pereira, who was president of parliament and the head of the PAIGC party that won a majority in legislative elections in June.
Several dozen people gathered outside the national assembly to protest against the president’s decision, saying they were tired of voting for new lawmakers.
Clashes between two army factions broke out in Bissau on Thursday night and continued on Friday after National Guard soldiers freed an opposition minister who had been detained in a corruption investigation.
The actions of members of the “National Guard, faced with the Government’s passivity, constituted an attempt to subvert the constitutional order,” Embalo said.
“Faced with this attempted coup d’état … and the existence of strong evidence of political complicity, the normal functioning of the Republic’s institutions became unsustainable,” he added.
The PAIGC party’s majority in the June vote halted his plans to push through a constitutional change that would have allowed him to consolidate power by removing the semi-presidential system.
Pereira said that the decree was unconstitutional, citing an article which says that parliament cannot be dissolved less than a year after it is voted in.
Coups and unrest have been commonplace in Guinea Bissau since it gained independence from Portugal in 1974. At least six people were killed during a failed attempt to overthrow Embalo in February 2022. Two died in last week’s clashes.
Under the current political system, the majority party or coalition appoints the government – but the president has the power to dismiss it in certain circumstances, often leading to political deadlock.
The national guard reports to parliament, while the military reports to the president.
Embalo also dissolved parliament in May 2022, accusing deputies of corruption, among other issues.
(Reporting by Alberto Dabo; Writing by Nellie Peyton; Editing by Bernadette Baum, Edward McAllister and Andrew Heavens)