Doubts Emerge Over Guinean Poll Credibility
* Leading contender’s party issues complaint
* U.N.’s Ban appeals for calm
(Adds civil society group reporting attempts at fraud)
By Saliou Samb and Daniel Magnowski
CONAKRY, June 29 (Reuters) – Doubts emerged on Tuesday over the credibility of Guinea’s presidential election, billed as its first free poll since independence, after leading candidates and a U.S. observer team cited flaws.
It was the first hint of possible wrangling over the outcome of Sunday’s first-round poll, which attracted a turnout of 80 percent and won international praise for avoiding violence and raising hopes of an end to military rule in the West African state.
A smooth election is seen as vital to boosting investment in Guinea, the world’s top exporter of the aluminium ore bauxite, unlocking aid to combat widespread poverty and easing the threat of ethnic strife that could set alight an unstable region.
“Confusion about several important aspects of voting and counting procedures, delay in allocation of polling stations, and late delivery of essential voting materials negatively affected the quality of polling,” the Carter Center human rights group said in a statement.
The faults had the “potential to undermine the principles of universal and equal suffrage”, added the Center, which had an observation team of more than 30 members alongside European and African observers.
Guinea’s National Council of Civil Society Organisations (CNOSC) said its observers saw “attempts at fraud” in some polling stations, citing an attempt at multiple voting in one, and a member of a political party who was expelled from another for trying to spread propaganda.
“These attempts were stopped thanks to the vigilance of observers and the population,” spokesman Taran Diallo said.
Preliminary results are due by Wednesday. Local media have published results from a few individual polling stations but no reliable trend has yet emerged.
U.N. APPEAL FOR CALM
Earlier, the party of leading presidential candidate Cellou Dalein Diallo voiced public concerns over procedures.
An official of his Union of Democratic Forces of Guinea (UFDG) party pointed to delays in publishing results in the UFDG stronghold district of Ratoma in the capital Conakry. Conakry accounts for a fifth of the total of 4.2 million voters.
“Yesterday, of 471 polling stations (there), we only have the results for 45. This is not normal,” said Abdoulaye Diouma Diallo, adding that in the Conakry commune of Matam there had also been “faults that question the credibility of the vote”.
Cellou Dalein Diallo is one of the favourites in a race widely expected to go to a second round of voting on July 18.
Separately, allies of rival candidate Alpha Conde said a voting official in Ratoma was being questioned by police.
“There has been fraud but we don’t know the extent at the moment,” Conde campaign manager Makale Traore told Reuters.
A spokesman for United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon late on Monday urged Guineans to remain calm.
“As Guinea awaits the results of the vote, the Secretary- General calls on all concerned to continue to respect their commitments to a peaceful process based on respect of the rule of law, and to accept the outcome,” he said in a statement.
In a reference to 18 drama-filled months since the death of authoritarian leader Lansana Conte gave way to military rule, the Carter Center acknowledged the huge task for Guinea to hold elections with what it called “a compressed electoral calendar, a legal vacuum, and a poorly developed national infrastructure”.
Last September an army crackdown on pro-democracy marchers resulted in more than 150 deaths and took Guinea close to civil war. Weeks later, junta leader Moussa Dadis Camara was wounded in an assassination attempt and his Western-backed successor pledged to hand back rule to civilians. (Writing by Mark John and David Lewis; Editing by Mark Trevelyan)