Thursday, 28 October 2010

Stakes rise with Guinea election gamble

A move by Guinean authorities to hold a delayed presidential run-off on Sunday marks an attempt to contain rising ethnic tensions in the West African country but could store up trouble for later.

The landmark vote, meant to end nearly two years of military rule, has been repeatedly postponed since the first round in June amid outbursts of violence between rival political camps and a lack of adequate preparation.

The newly-appointed electoral commission chief surprised observers on Tuesday by proposing to hold the vote on Oct. 31 -- a move widely seen as a bid to stifle rising conflict and the potential for a new military coup.

"There are clearly dangers in allowing this impasse to continue," said Chris Melville, senior associate at Menas Associates, a London-based consultancy watching Guinea and its large bauxite and iron ore mining sector.

But the attempt to rush the vote could lead to a chaotic election aftermath in a country that has drawn billions of dollars in investment from firms like Rio Tinto and Vale.

Junta leader General Sekouba Konate has yet to ratify the date and one candidate, ex-premier Cellou Dallein Diallo, said the date was premature -- raising worries that his supporters would vigorously contest the outcome if he lost.


Diallo took 43.69 percent in June's first round, relying on support from his ethnic Peul, who make up about 40 percent of the country. Veteran opposition leader Alpha Conde, one of the Malinke who make up about 35 percent of the country and have tended to enjoy political power since independence, took 18.25 percent of the first round.

But Diallo's lead may not be as strong as it appears.

Diallo said on Tuesday that recent ethnic clashes in regions that favour Conde had displaced large numbers of his supporters and no measures had yet been taken to ensure they could vote.

Conde has burnished his support with alliances with defeated first-round candidates Papa Koly Kourouma and Jean-Marc Telliano -- both of whom did well in the large Guinea Forestiere region -- and has strong support in Malinke stronghold Haute Guinea.

After complaints in the first round that some voters had to travel 20 miles (30 km) to vote, election officials have been adding new voting stations in those regions -- in theory making for a stronger turnout for Conde.

"The first round showed Diallo as the clear front-runner. But it will be interesting to see if the machinations of the political elite in between will affect those results," said Tara O'Connor of Africa Risk Consulting.

Analysts said the Peul would be in no mood to accept defeat this time around given their view that other ethnicities have ganged up to exclude them from power since independence from France in 1958.

But there has been pressure from Paris, the United Nations and neighbouring states on Guinea not to delay the election any further. Assuming Konate accepts the Oct. 31 date, the trade-off will be in favour of reducing the risk of violence before the vote in the hope of being able to contain it later.

"The damage to the electoral system has already been done," said O'Connor of an electoral process that was billed as being Guinea's first democratic vote since 1958.

"It is just better that they are getting on with it."

Source: Reuters

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