Guinea’s voters go to the polls Sunday, deciding whether to grant a controversial third term to their 82-year-old president, Alpha Conde.
Conde promoted constitutional reform, approved in a March referendum, that limits a president to two terms. But it also allows Conde to reset the starting point of his term, the government’s information minister, Amara Sompare, told VOA.
Many in the West African nation think a third term is illegal and have demonstrated to show their opposition. Violence repeatedly has broken out between protesters and government supporters — before the March referendum and legislative elections and in the run-up to the presidential vote.
Early this month, Amnesty International alleged in a report that the government crackdown on protests “has resulted in the deaths of at least 50 people in less than a year,” with “defense and security forces responsible for unlawful killings.” This week, the National Front for the Defense of the Constitution (FNDC), a coalition of nongovernmental and civil society groups, reported at least 92 protesters have been killed since last October.
Guinea’s security minister, Albert Damantang Camara, disputed the FNDC tally.
“There have been violent deaths, which we regret, and we are working to ensure that this does not happen again,” he told AFP. The news service reported Camara also said that 42 of the deaths might be linked to political clashes but that there wasn’t enough evidence to blame security forces.
Conde, who leads the Rally of the Guinean People Party (RPG), is Guinea’s first democratically elected leader since it gained independence from France in 1958. He took office in December 2010, increasing the country’s economic stability and raising its stature in African diplomacy, analyst Paul Melly wrote for the BBC.
Melly, of the Chatham House think tank in London, also noted that Conde’s administration has faced accusations of growing authoritarianism and rights violations.
The incumbent’s main rival is Cellou Dalein Diallo, 68, a former prime minister who unsuccessfully challenged Conde in 2010 and 2015. Diallo represents the Union of Democratic Forces of Guinea (UFDG).
Ten other candidates round out the field. A candidate must win more than 50% of the vote or face a runoff with the leading opponent.
Opposition parties have vowed to continue protests but are divided about whether to participate in the vote.
The regional bloc Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) says 5.4 million voters have been validated.
“Conditions for a fair election are not in place,” Reuters quoted Diallo as saying. “Voters have not been able to check whether they are registered or not.”
Though the nation of 13 million is one of the world’s poorest, it’s rich in natural resources including minerals. It is a top global exporter of bauxite, used to make aluminum. Also, it was one of three West African countries hardest hit by Ebola in the 2014-16 epidemic.
Other key concerns?
Ethnic tensions have been rising. U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet last week warned political leaders against hate speech, citing “already serious indications of rising intolerance and confrontation.”
Conde and the ruling RPG party draw support from the Malinke people, while Diallo and his UFDG count ethnic Fulani (Puehl) among their primary backers, according to Al-Jazeera.
Potential regional impact
Contested election results in Guinea could raise instability in West Africa, which already contends with increased extremist attacks in Mali, ethnic violence and insurgency in the Sahel region. And neighboring Ivory Coast faces its own controversial election Oct. 31, with President Alassane Ouattara seeking a third term after the sudden death in July of his chosen successor, Prime Minister Amadou Gon Coulibaly.
ECOWAS, the African Union and United Nations jointly called for a “credible, transparent and peaceful presidential election,” after representatives on a recent visit to Guinea found “prevailing mistrust among the [election] stakeholders.” The representatives urged Guinean authorities to “secure the electoral process,” protect candidates and their supporters, and respect human rights.
What is the US interest?
The United States broke off ties with Guinea after a 2008 military coup but renewed them with the 2010 vote that brought Conde to power. The U.S. Department of State says its policies aim to “encourage Guinea’s democratic reforms, its positive contribution to regional stability, and sustainable economic and social development.”
In a general statement on upcoming African elections, the State Department this month warned against violence and intimidation. It said the U.S. would watch for interference in the democratic process and would “not hesitate to consider consequences — including visa restrictions — for those responsible for election-related violence.”
This story originated in VOA’s French to Africa Service.
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