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Guinea’s “Imperfect, Historic” Elections: Polling Stations Far From Concentrated Populations, 500,000 Without Voter Card, Military to Vote Off Base in Civilian Clothes

June 26, 2010

 
Guinea elections ‘imperfect, historic’
2010-06-26 16:14

Conakry – Guinea’s historic election on Sunday will not be perfect, analysts say, but a strong turnout is expected from among four million voters keen to put an end to half a century of dictatorship rule.

The west African country has discovered passionate electoral debate and festive street demonstrations in its first free election since independence in 1958, having known only the successive rule of civilian and military despots.

However a relatively peaceful 40 day election campaign was marred this week when supporters from two political parties clashed in a town 50km from Conakry, resulting in at least one death.

While the national electoral commission (CENI) said Friday it was ready for its baptism of fire, with 3 965 local and foreign observers to be deployed, parties and observers admitted not everything was running smoothly.

The vice-chairperson of former prime minister Cellou Dalein Diallo’s party, Oury Bah, said there had been “many difficulties” in the organisation of the elections, particularly that “polling stations are far from concentrated populations.”

And according to the CENI, nearly 500 000 Guineans were unable to obtain electronic voter cards and would have to vote with a receipt.

“A compressed timetable for the elections has generated some irregularities and some technical challenges,” Human Right’s Watch said in a statement Friday. “But the defence ministry’s promise to keep the military in barracks during the election period, and to back whoever wins is a very positive sign.”

Traumatic past

With its traumatic past, the people of Guinea want to believe in peace.

“The conditions have not all been met, but the crisis in Guinea has paralyzed the country to such an extent that everyone wants out of this situation,” explains Maurice Zogbelemou Togba from the party of another former prime minister and favourite, Sidya Toure.

In the streets of Conakry posters display two large faces of children with the slogan: “Vote for them, in calmness and serenity.”

Guinea’s “father of independence” turned president-for-life Ahmed Sekou Toure ruled repressively for 26 years and his sudden death in 1984 was quickly followed by a coup which led to 24 years of military rule by General Lansana Conte.

Whatever hope for change may have been sparked by Conte’s death in 2008 was quickly extinguished.

Another military junta led by Captain Musa Dadis Camara, promising elections, the happiness of the people and a fight against corruption, quickly led the country into disaster.

This election is taking place nine months after an army massacre left at least 156 of Camara’s opponents brutally murdered.

Since then Guineans were delivered a transition government and on the eve of its first democratic poll, are “faced with their history” according to new army chief of staff Colonel Nouhou Thiam.

“Now, this is democracy: each person is free to choose his candidate. There is no settling of scores, no threat. There is nothing. The army will be at the disposition of the president who is democratically elected.”

And soldiers will vote in civilian clothes outside of the barracks.

There are 24 civilian candidates running for president in the former French colony.

A western diplomat said “strong attendance is expected in this important, symbolic election.”

The same source added that while it “certainly wouldn’t be perfect” the biggest challenge would come after the election from “the movements of soldiers who aren’t necessarily controllable.”

United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon on Friday called for “peaceful and credible” elections.

The first provisional results will not be known until Wednesday. The announcement of final results is expected within eight days. The date of the possible second round is scheduled for July 18.

– AFP

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