Guineans set to vote in tense presidential election

After months of unrest and divisive politics, voters in Guinea set to cast ballots to elect country’s next president.

Violence has been reported during campaigns leading up to the elections [File: Cello Binani/AFP]

Voters in Guinea will head to the polls on Sunday to elect the country’s next president, in a tense election that comes after months of deadly unrest.

Nearly five million voters are eligible to cast ballots in the presidential contest that pits incumbent Alpha Conde against 11 challengers, most notably former Prime Minister Cellou Dalein Diallo.

Conde, 82, is seeking a controversial third term after pushing through a revamped constitution earlier this year that critics denounced as a plot to sidestep a two-term limit on presidential mandates.

The new constitution was overwhelmingly supported by voters in a March 22 referendum that was boycotted by Conde’s political rivals and civil society organisations. The result means Conde could potentially now remain the country’s president for 12 more years.

Diallo, 68, was at the forefront of mass demonstrations against the proposed changes, which were met with a harsh crackdown by security forces.

On the eve of the election, Amadou Camara, a businessman in the capital, Conakry, said he was still undecided about heading out to vote on Sunday.

“The thought of voting and your ballot not counting makes me sick. Many Guineans are not happy with the process leading up to the elections,” said the 45-year-old.

“Some of us who support the opposition were looking forward to participating in the elections but the constitutional change and the deadly protests has shown us that Conde is desperate to remain in power,” he added. “This is not what we envisaged for our country. We were expecting to consolidate on a smooth democratic transition rather than a tenure elongation programme.”

Rising tensions

In 2010, Conde became Guinea’s first democratically elected leader after decades of military rule. He was re-elected in 2015.

Before assuming office, Conde had been a long-standing opposition figure who was jailed and exiled for his views against Guinea’s military government.

“I am a democrat,” Conde said in a recent interview with French media outlets after being asked whether he would accept the outcome of Sunday’s vote. “It’s extraordinary that I should be seen as an anti-democratic dictator,” Conde added. “I fought for 45 years, I was in the opposition.”

Fofana Boubacar, a worker with a private company in Conakry said: “Conde was loved by many in Guinea when he was the leader of the opposition – and that was why we voted for him in 2010.

“I don’t know why he wants to forgo all the goodwill he has enjoyed over the years,” Boubacar added. “I hope the outcome of the election should be a reflection of the wishes of the people to avoid further political crises.”

Earlier this week, a leading opposition group said 92 people were killed by security forces over the past year during the protests against Conde’s bid for a third term. About half of them were shot dead, according to the National Front for the Defence of the Constitution.

“Guinean security forces have confronted popular protests with brutality and violence,” Ilaria Allegrozzi, the senior Central Africa researcher at Human Rights Watch, told Al Jazeera.

“In most occasions, the security forces have broken up demonstrations, dispersed demonstrators by arresting them or firing on them with tear gas and also with live ammunition,” said Allegrozzi.

Tensions have been running high in the lead-up to Sunday’s polls in the face of a campaign marred by violence and divisive politics. This week, the government shut down the country’s borders and restricted internet access over security concerns.

Last week, the United Nations urged candidates to curb ethnically charged hate speech, warning the situation is “extremely dangerous” and may lead to violence.

Rights groups have also called on authorities to ensure the safety of the electorate.

“We have urged the government to make sure security forces deployed to and around polling stations and effectively protect people while respecting their right to demonstrate peacefully and vote,” said Allegrozzi.

Source: Al Jazeera