Guinea-Bissau was first colonized by Portugal in the 15th century, but later incursions met with resistance which culminated in a series of wars (1878-1936). However, during the colonial period Guinea-Bissau remained undeveloped. After a 10-year guerrilla war, Guinea-Bissau unilaterally declared independence in 1973, and Guinea-Bissau's independence was recognized by Portugal in 1974, following a military coup. A new government was formed by the African Party for the Independence of Guinea-Bissau and Cape Verde (PAIGC), which wished to unite Guinea-Bissau with Cape Verde. In 1980, Commander Joao Vieira overthrew the government and severed Guinea-Bissau's link with Cape Verde. The political situation remained unstable in the 1980s, with many attempted coups and much civil unrest.
Since 1991, the country has been a multi-party republic. The president is elected to a 5-year term by popular vote and appoints a prime minister after consultation with the leaders of the unicameral National Assembly, the country's legislature. Legislators are elected to 4-year terms. The court system ranges from a Supreme Court, whose members serve at the pleasure of the president to 9 regional and 24 sectoral courts.
Although Vieira forcibly took control of the government in 1980, he had agreed in principle to the implementation of a multi-party democracy in the early 1990s. Predominantly due to a fragmented opposition, PAIGC won the first election, but Vieira won a disputed presidential election in the second round in 1994. The change in government did not erase its economic ineptitude, however. The bad handling of the country's entry into UEMOA in 1997 led to strikes, and although a change of prime minister restored some confidence, corruption scandals soon struck the government. In June 1998, Vieira dismissed the army chief Brigadier Ansumane Mane, for alleged involvement in supplying arms to separatists from the Senegalese region of Casamance, which sparked a civil war. Despite a peace accord, tensions continued until Vieira was ousted in May 1999.
In November 1999, in a multi-party election, PAIGC was defeated, and Kumba Iala (also spelled Yala), the head of the Social Renovation Party (PRS), was elected president in January 2000.
The country implemented a constitution in 1984, which has been amended 5 times, the latest change approved in 1996. The original constitution of 1984 allowed a 1-party state and reforms, instituted by Vieira. The document put all power in presidential hands. In 1990, reforms led to a multi-party state. A crisis was narrowly averted in 1997, when the president unconstitutionally dismissed the prime minister without consulting the Assembly, which was later revoked after referral to the Supreme Court, with Prime Minister Correira reappointed in October with the full support of the main opposition parties. Later electoral organizational problems culminated in civil war and unrest that ended with the dismissal of Vieira.
After the problems of 1997, a committee was set up to revise the constitution and reinforce the judiciary's independence. In 1999, the Assembly passed the new constitution with a two-thirds majority. The constitutional amendments specified that any president could only be elected twice, with each term lasting 5 years, it abolished the death penalty, and it specified that only nationals born in Guinea-Bissau of parents born in Guinea-Bissau may hold high offices of state. The constitution still requires President Iala's approval, but this point is problematic because several incumbents (including Fadul and Brigadier Mane) are not of local descent. Also, the military junta's future plans are uncertain, as it has announced that it would rule alongside the new government for the next 10 years.
Since 1999, 2 parties have dominated the National Assembly—the PRS and the Resistance Ba-Fata Movement (RGB-MB)—and these 2 parties are likely to form a coalition. PAIGC's representation in the Assembly has dropped, despite its change from socialist ideals to those of democracy and market economics. The infighting between the new and old guard in Guinea-Bissau was responsible for the expulsion of Vieira and others and has continued. Since the civil war, for example, there has been a rift in the army between the old guard and the new professional soldiers. Because the military is underpaid and promotion is an arbitrary process, the rift could cause military problems in the long term. Some think the political situation in Guinea-Bissau remains very unstable.
Since the civil war, Guinea-Bissau has had intermittent security concerns along its border with Guinea and Senegal. Vieira had requested the assistance of Senegalese and Guinea troops to protect his administration during the civil war, which turned the coup into a regional conflict. In addition, Guinea-Bissau had also been a haven for Senegalese rebels. However, since the end of the war, the new government has sought to mend relations with Guinea and Senegal, and relations with Gambia are good.