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Key Political Risks to Watch in Guinea

September 1, 2010

FACTBOX-Key political risks to watch in Guinea

Wed Sep 1, 2010 12:41pm GMT

By Saliou Samb

CONAKRY, Sept 1 (Reuters) – Guinea, one of the world’s biggest sources of the aluminium ore bauxite, holds a run-off in a presidential election on Sept. 19, a vote aimed at ending a political crisis that has persisted since a 2008 military coup.

On July 20, Guinea’s Supreme Court rejected candidates’ challenges and confirmed that Cellou Dalein Diallo, who polled highest in June 27’s first round, and second-placed Alpha Conde will face each other in the run-off.

The court, however, threw out votes from five districts on grounds of “severe irregularities”. Ex-prime minister Diallo is the favourite, having secured the backing of a leading rival.

A truly free and fair vote could mark a turning point for the country and set a powerful example to neighbours in West Africa, where civil war, armed power grabs and accusations of rigged elections have become common.

Guineans and foreign observers see a legitimate poll as a first step towards Guinea winning back foreign aid and ensuring its mineral wealth benefits its 10 million people.

POLITICS AND THE ELECTION

The army stepped into the power vacuum left when President Lansana Conte died in December 2008 after more than two decades of rule, selecting Captain Moussa Dadis Camara as head of the junta, and de facto head of state.

Camara won early popularity but then reneged on promises to hand power back to civilians. He became an international pariah when security forces killed 150 unarmed pro-democracy marchers on Sept. 28, 2009, a massacre in which the United Nations said Camara was implicated.

In December a former aide-de-camp wounded Camara in an assassination bid, since when he has undergone medical treatment in Morocco and has been convalescing outside Guinea. His second in command Sekouba Konate took over and — to the relief of the region and with the firm backing of U.S. and French diplomacy — named a transitional government tasked to prepare elections.

What to watch:

– Conduct of vote. Several candidates in the first round alleged fraud, and international observers, while saying they were generally satisfied with the process, noted logistical problems. To minimise the risk of a challenge after the second round, which could be more inflammatory than those so far, the electoral commission (CENI) will want to make sure there are as few problems as possible.

– Loser disputes result. While the electoral process may be able to withstand challenges of the count in a handful districts, if the loser says the entire second round is fraudulent or flawed, and his supporters take that grievance onto the streets, Guinea may have a major problem. The foreign governments which have spent $41 million between them on the vote have stressed to candidates the importance of respecting the result, but an loser denouncing the result rather than offering to work with the winner could provoke serious unrest.

– Ethnic conflict. Diallo and Conde draw support essentially on ethnic lines. Conde belongs to the Malinke ethnic group, as does around 35 percent of the population, while Diallo is a Peuhl, a group which makes up around 40 percent.

Ethnic divisions have historically been a factor in Guinean politics. Malinke are seen as having held sway under President Sekou Toure, the country’s first post-independence leader, while successor Lansana Conte belonged to the minority Soussou group. Camara came from one of the minorities in the southeast of the country. Many Peuhl believe it is their turn to govern. Witnesses said much of the Sept. 28 violence was ethnically motivated. The nightmare scenario is that an ethnic flare-up triggers tensions among the same ethnic groups in neighbours such as Sierra Leone and Liberia.

– Army tries to retain power. Konate has not had to deal with any major rebellion within the ranks. But some analysts believe parts of the army will not readily step down from power lightly. Konate has already rewarded soldiers for their good behaviour during the first round with across the board promotions, but still, whoever wins the election may have to buy off officers with some form of financial sweetener — which would mean fewer revenues to reform public services and infrastructure.

– Camara’s supporters rally. Interim premier Jean-Marie Dore warned before the first round that supporters of Camara were plotting his return to Guinea to disrupt the election. Though trouble did not materialise as some had feared, interference from the Camara camp cannot be wholly ruled out.

– Security. Even if the army does not attempt to hold onto power or destabilise the incoming government, its past role in maintaining law and order has been counter-productive. Military discipline has improved greatly under Konate but last year soldiers were blamed for robberies and attacks on civilians. Though it seems unlikely foreign firms will be targeted, some executives quit the country last year on security concerns.

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