Voters in Guinea will head to the polls on Sunday to elect members of parliament and vote on a proposed constitutional reform against the backdrop of deadly street protests and the coronavirus pandemic.
Opposition groups have called for a boycott of the delayed vote, originally planned for March 1, accusing President Alpha Conde of planning to use the constitutional referendum to extend his stay in office.
Conde has ruled the West African country since 2010; his second and final five-year term will come to an end in December.
Under the country’s current constitution, the 82-year-old leader is not allowed to seek a third term.
Opposition leaders argue that Conde, the country’s first democratically elected leader, is planning to use the new constitution as a reset button on the current two five-year term limits.
“Alpha Conde is trying to change the constitution to stay in power for life,” Cellou Dalein Diallo, leader of the Union of Democratic Forces of Guinea (UFDG) party and the main opposition leader, told Al Jazeera.
“Many of our people have been killed protesting this decision. It is their constitutional right to protest against his decision,” added Diallo, a former prime minister.
A proposed draft for a new constitution does not explicitly state whether Conde would be eligible for the 2020 election but the president has refused to rule out running again.
“It is for the party to decide. For the moment, it is not my concern,” Conde told Radio France International.
For the changes to the constitution to be approved, more than 50 percent of the votes cast need to be in favour.
The polls are due to take place even as several countries in the region and across the continent have banned public gatherings to stop the spread of the new coronavirus. Guinea has confirmed two cases to date.
Since October, opposition supporters have been taking to the streets demanding Conde step down after his term comes to an end this year. More than 30 people have been killed in clashes between security forces and demonstrators.
“We are protesting because Alpha Conde has decided to carry out a coup d’etat against the Guinean constitution,” Abdoulai Oumou Sow, an activist and one of the organisers of the street marches, told Al Jazeera.
“We are not scared. They can kill us all if they want. We believe that by protesting, the military will join us and remove Conde from office and organise clean and fair elections in the country,” Sow said.
Human rights groups have called on the authorities to show restraint when dealing with the protesters.
“Guinea’s government needs to ensure that police and gendarme exercise restraint and discipline when policing opposition protests,” Corinne Dufka, West Africa director at Human Rights Watch, said.
“Guinea’s authorities need to conduct credible investigations of allegations of abuses and punish those responsible.”
Poll credibility concerns
The international association of French-speaking countries (OIF) cast doubt over the credibility of the electoral register.
OIF said in February that 2.4 million “problematic” names, in a country of 12 million, were on the voting register, including individuals who have died, people who are too young to cast their ballots and duplicate names.
Amadou Salif Kebe, head of the electoral commission, disputed the claim, saying: “We think that our electoral roll is sufficiently credible.”
Last month, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said he was concerned about Guinea’s electoral process.
“We question whether the process will be free, fair, and transparent and accurately reflect the will of all eligible voters,” Pompeo said in a statement.
Internet connectivity in the country will be disrupted this weekend after the company that manages the service said work would take place on an undersea fibre-optic cable. MTN, one of Guinea’s main phone networks, also said some internet and phone services would be down.
Analysts say the vote will only lead to more problems for the mineral-rich West African country, which has experienced at least two coups since gaining independence from France in 1958.
“This election will not lead to any stability because everything has been done in the interest of the government and Conde,” Isaac Kamano, an analyst based in the capital, Conakry, told Al Jazeera.
“The government needs to bring everybody on board, including civil society groups, the opposition and human rights groups, before holding an election,” Kamano added.
On the streets of the seaside capital, no significant campaigning has taken place, unlike previous elections. Many voters told Al Jazeera they will heed the opposition’s call for a boycott.
“I’m not going to bother to vote because the electoral process is corrupted. It is better not to vote. They are ready to steal our rights,” Abdoul Aziz Ben Raman Diallo, 33, said.
Some voters said they will not be voting after they found their names twice on the electoral register.
“The last elections, I voted, but with this referendum elections how can I vote with two voter ID cards on my name,” Aissatou Sow told Al Jazeera.
Youssouf Bah has contributed to this report from Guinea.