Political tensions run as high as West African country country gears up for October 18 presidential vote.
Guinean opposition candidate Cellou Dalein Diallo says he has won the first round of a high-stakes presidential election, prompting the country’s election body, which has yet to publish results, to call his self-declared victory “void”.
“Despite the serious anomalies that marred the smooth running of the … election and in view of the results that came out of the ballot boxes, I am victorious in this election in the first round,” Diallo told journalists and cheering supporters on Monday, a day after the vote was held.
“I invite all my fellow citizens who love peace and justice to stay vigilant and committed to defend this democratic victory.”
Outside the building in the capital, Conakry, supporters erupted in joy and chanted “Cellou, president”. Elsewhere in the city, security forces fired tear gas canisters at crowds assembling in support of Diallo.
The opposition leader did not give any figures but said the tally was based on his party’s count, not an official tally being conducted by the national election commission.
Later on Monday, Bakary Mansare, vice president of the electoral authority, told the AFP news agency Diallo’s purported victory was “premature” and “void”.
“It is not up to a candidate or a person to proclaim himself the winner outside the bodies defined by the law,” he said.
Diallo, 68, is the main challenger to Guinea’s 82-year-old incumbent President Alpha Conde, who is seeking a third term in office after a constitutional change in March.
Diallo’s announcement sets the stage for a showdown with the government, which insists Sunday’s vote was fair and the official electoral authority must declare the results.
Polling day was mostly calm, but it followed months of protests against a third term for Conde which were met with a harsh response by security forces. Dozens of people were killed during the mass demonstrations against Conde’s re-election bid.
Opposition members are deeply suspicious of the fairness of the poll, as well as the independence of Guinea’s electoral authority.
Signs of a looming electoral dispute began to appear on Sunday when Diallo told reporters Conde could “cheat” his way to power.
Guinea’s security minister fired back that Diallo should “return to his senses”.
In a statement @Cellou_UFDG says he won Sunday’s presidential vote but the election commission has yet to confirm anything. Seems Guinea heading again towards a post electoral crisis https://t.co/EsmJEB2wsu
— Nicolas Haque (@nicolashaque) October 19, 2020
Ousmane Gaoual Diallo, a cadre in Diallo’s UFDG party, said results at individual polling states were public, enabling the party’s own observers to conduct a count.
“If we are the winners, we will defend our victory,” he said. “We won’t wait.”
Earlier on Monday, Guinea’s government said in a statement the opposition “clearly intended to create chaos and to call into question the real results that will come out of the ballot box”.
After decades as an opposition activist, Conde became Guinea’s first democratically elected president in 2010 and won again in 2015, but rights groups now accuse him of veering towards authoritarianism.
Diallo was formerly a prime minister under authoritarian leader Lansana Conte. He unsuccessfully challenged Conde in both 2010 and 2015, in elections his party activists are convinced were rigged.
Before vote counting began on Sunday, Diallo’s activists said their observers had been obstructed at polling stations and alleged ballot-box stuffing.
Prime Minister Kassory Fofana said the opposition publishing results ahead of the official results was tantamount to pouring “oil on the fire”.
He added these results are expected within a week.
There have been fears recent tensions have taken on an ethnic dimension, with Conde accused of exploiting divisions during the campaign – a charge he denies. Guinea’s politics are mainly drawn along ethnic lines: The president’s base is mostly from the ethnic Malinke community and Diallo’s from the Fulani people.
Before the vote, the United Nations urged candidates to curb ethnically charged hate speech, warning the situation is “extremely dangerous” and may lead to violence.
Speaking to Al Jazeera from Conakry on Sunday, Patrice Vahard, spokesman for the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, cited inclusiveness, hate speech and electoral violence as the main concerns in the lead-up to the vote
“The period from the moment the polling stations close to the announcement of the final result by the constitutional court is going to be extremely critical,” he warned.