GUINEA: Candidates Begin Campaigning Amid Growing Concerns of a Contested Election
By Saliou Samb
CONAKRY (Reuters) – Guinea’s first election since a military coup in 2008 must establish democracy in the mineral exporting West African country and bring it back into the international fold, a frontrunner candidate said as campaigning began.
The presidential vote, scheduled for June 27, will be pivotal for a region cursed by civil wars, armed power-grabs and rigged elections, and offers Guinea a chance at its first genuinely free poll since independence from France in 1958.
“I hope these elections (…) will allow the people of Guinea to freely choose their leaders, allow the establishment of democracy, and above all allow Guinea to re-enter the international community,” said Alpha Conde, head of political party the RPG.
“We are still on schedule for June 27 — the atmosphere here is that there should be no choice,” said Elizabeth Cote of the International Foundation for Electoral Systems (IFES), which is working in Guinea to raise awareness of democracy.
The electoral commission says voting cards will be ready by June 15, but concerns about incomplete voter lists mean losing candidates might claim grounds for contesting the result, and protests may turn violent.
“Everything could very well be smooth up to the election, but there is a big risk that people might not accept the result,” Cote said.
Still, the transitional government headed by Jean-Marie Dore is unlikely to delay the vote for fear it might allow supporters of coup leader Moussa Dadis Camara, convalescing in Burkina Faso after an attempt on his life last year, to derail the process.
“The longer the wait, the more likely it is that somebody from Dadis’ side will come up with a mischievous plan,” said Lydie Boka, manager of French consultancy StrategiCo.
After a hiatus which began when the army took power, investors have started spending new money on new projects in Guinea in the past few months.
A Rio Tinto-Chinalco team, and a Vale -BSG Resources joint venture are between them spending more than $5 billion to build two huge iron ore mines, projects kicked off earlier this year.
Still, activity in the mining sector, Guinea’s biggest foreign exchange earner and a huge employer, did drop off last year. Government documents blame the political situation at least in part for a fall of more than 15 percent in output of bauxite, the feedstock for aluminium.
“We need to review how the economy is run, to allow Guinea to bring some order to its public finances, an essential condition for renewing relations with development partners,” said Oury Bah, spokesman for Cellou Dalein Diallo, leader of the UFD party and who is expected to be a main contender.
For a new government to function properly, it must rebuild trust in the state — no easy task after more than two decades of authoritarian rule under former President Lansana Conte, and last September’s massacre by junta security forces of more than 150 pro-democracy marchers.
“To me, the idea of national unity is the most important. Recently we’ve seen the development of factionalism … and the UFR (party) is fighting that,” said Sidya Toure, the UFR’s candidate and another frontrunner.
“The aim of national reconciliation is to build judicial and institutional systems which will be the basis of a new, non-violent relationship between the Guinean state and Guinean citizens,” said Guinean political analyst Madani Dia.