Guinea elects president ushering in delicate West African electoral cycle

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Nearly five and a half million Guineans began voting on Sunday to choose their next president, the first meeting under pressure in a busy West African electoral calendar, scrutinized with concern by democracy advocates.

At the Federico Mayor school in Kaloum, a district of Conakry where the Guinean decision-making centers are located, joined by dozens of voters, the operations started more than half an hour ahead of the planned schedule, AFP journalists observed.

Polling stations must in principle remain open until 6:00 p.m. local time.

This election, the first in a series of five presidential elections in West Africa before the end of 2020, takes place in a climate of tension that raises fears of unrest, especially around the announcement of the results, in a country accustomed to this. let political antagonisms spill blood.

Twelve candidates are in the running to lead this country of 12 to 13 million inhabitants, among the poorest in the world despite its immense natural resources. The outcome should be played between outgoing Alpha Condé, 82, and his long-time opponent, Cellou Dalein Diallo, 68.

One bloody, the other civilized, they clashed in 2010, the first elections deemed democratic after decades of authoritarian regimes, then in 2015. Mr. Condé had won both times.

Mr. Condé, the only 4th president known to independent Guinea (in addition to two interim presidents), claims to have restored a country he had found in ruins and to have advanced human rights. He promises to make it “the second African (economic) power after Nigeria”. M. Diallo proposes

to “turn the nightmarish page of 10 years of lies”, lambasting police repression, corruption, youth unemployment and poverty. He says the outgoing unable to continue ruling because of his age.

“Tumultuous tomorrow”

The 2020 election is not immune to the tensions of previous ones. For months, the opposition mobilized against the prospect of a third term for Mr. Condé. The protest was harshly repressed. Dozens of civilians have been killed.

Government and opposition reject the responsibility for these deaths.

The number of presidential terms is limited to two. But for Mr. Condé, the Constitution he had adopted in March to, he says, modernize the country resets his counter to zero.

The opposition questioned the legitimacy of this Constitution. But Mr. Diallo decided to participate in the presidential election, arguing that to govern, you had to go through the polls.

Led by major feverish encounters, the campaign was peppered with invectives, incidents and obstructions, and clashes that left several militants injured.

The importance of ethnicities adds to the volatility of the situation.

“Alpha Condé, who has come all this way, who changed the Constitution, would he (have gone) that far to lose the election,” asks Kabinet Fofana, president of the Association for Political Science. And “Cellou Dalein, who lost two elections, who is no longer represented in the Assembly, would he come just to accompany Alpha Condé? “

This “may lead us to think that we will experience a fairly tumultuous electoral aftermath,” he believes.

“We will not throw stones, we will not break vehicles,” said Prime Minister Kassory Fofana on behalf of thousands of supporters of Mr. Condé gathered Friday for his last meeting.

“Like Obama”

“Our activists will go and vote quietly,” Fodé Oussou Fofana, vice-president of Mr. Diallo’s party, told AFP. But there is no question of letting victory “steal” again, his camp repeats.

The party has invested a lot of money to bring up the votes itself, he said, so wary of bodies deemed to be subservient to power, despite sending African observers.

The Security Ministry warned on Friday that it was “forbidden” for anyone other than “recognized” institutions to publish a result.

“We will do exactly like President Obama. (If) we have our own results, we can make a tweet, ”says Fodé Oussou Fofana.

It should take at least a few days to publish a national result.

A possible second round is scheduled for November 24.

The recourse to electoral distortions or to constitutional modifications is one of the setbacks of democracy observed by its defenders in recent years in West Africa, once considered to be a pioneer.

Following Guinea, presidential elections are scheduled by the end of 2020, in Côte d’Ivoire, Burkina Faso, Ghana and Niger. From October 31, the presidential election in Côte d’Ivoire, where the outgoing Alassane Ouattara is also applying for a third term, also promises to be at high risk.

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