Guineans are voting in the second round of presidential elections on 19 September, more than two months after the first round held on 27th June. About two weeks before the election day, negative campaigning and provocative comments are however now emerging from the camps of the two main contenders in the poll, first-placed candidate of the first round Celou Dalein Diallo and second-placed candidate Alpha Condé.
The first one appears to believe that his comfortable 44 per cent in the first round, added to the support of the third-placed (13 per cent) and sixth-placed (3 per cent) candidates would arithmetically assure him victory come 19th September. Statements are therefore being made in his camp as to the "impossibility" of his alliance failing to win the second round vis-à-vis a rival that only garnered 18,25 per cent in the first round.
The second-placed candidate, on the other hand, does not think that his modest score at the first round reflected the true weight of his electoral base, a score he blames on "electoral irregularities" attributable to the electoral commission. He therefore does not see that score as an indicator for his fortunes in the second round, particularly given that the definitive results of the first round were based on only 52 per cent of the electorate. He seems to be comforted in this belief by the fact that not less than 90 of the 126 registered political parties have allied themselves with him, including the fourth and fifth-placed candidates with a total of about 13 per cent of the votes in the first round. Also, all the main candidates in two of the four natural regions of the country and some candidates and scores of political movements from a third region as well as Conakry are part of this "Rainbow Coalition", as his coalition is called.
Considering that the voting in the first round was mainly made along ethno-regional lines, Condé also believes that there is no way he could lose the second round if the process were transparent.
Meanwhile, Diallo and his camp suspect the Prime Minister of the transitional government of being in favour of Condé, while the latter thinks that some members of the electoral commission deliberately "stole" his votes in favour of Diallo during the first round. Diallo is from the majority ethnic group, from which a Head of State has never hailed, and many in the group think this is their turn to rule the country. But Condé is 72 years of age and most likely believes that this poll is his last chance to ever becoming president in Guinea, which he thinks he deserves to be, having opposed all the successive governments since independence. He hails from the second largest ethnic group. Together, the two ethnic groups of the two candidates constitute nearly 70 per cent of the population.
These high stakes are now coupled with, or perhaps have led to, much negative campaigning by both camps, unlike the more "civilised" campaigning process observed during the first round. In reference to Diallo's past services under Lansana Conté in various ministerial positions, including that of Prime Minister, Condé has reportedly lambasted his rival as representing a mafia responsible for the country's economic woes. On the other side, a DVD has reportedly been circulating in the country containing some speeches of former military ruler, Moussa Davis Camara, in which Camara laments at Condé and other opposition leaders, denying them any sense of patriotism. Condé's camp believes that supporters of Diallo doctored Dadis' speech in a bid to discredit their candidate and destabilise part of his electoral base (due to alliance-building) that is still sympathetic to Dadis.
Clearly, positions are increasingly being entrenched between the two candidates and the media are not helping the matter. It is the aforementioned stakes and perceptions and these negative campaigns that constitute a source of preoccupation and justification to fear a possible post-electoral violence in the country. The political situation is already quite tense. For this reason, it is vital for both candidates to weigh the far-reaching implications of their statements. What is encouraging however is that all the national and international stakeholders are aware of these concerns and seem to be taking appropriate measures to control the situation. For example, leaders of many neighbouring countries, particularly those of Mali, Burkina Faso, Liberia, Senegal and Sierra Leone, have visited the country in recent weeks and met with the two candidates (and other national stakeholders) to whom they conveyed their concerns and urged them to control their utterances and their supporters.
Meanwhile, the ECOWAS-mandated mediator, president Blaise Compaore of Burkina Faso, has invited both candidates to meet him in Ouagadougou and reiterated what he already told them during his recent visit to Conakry, which is to be "civilised" in their campaigns and to commit to accept the results of the poll. The International Contact Group on Guinea, initiated by the AU and ECOWAS and co-chaired by the two organisations is also holding its 15th periodic meeting in Conakry on 2-3 September in an attempt to calm tensions and ensure a violence-free election. Most importantly, the national electoral commission is striving, in collaboration with representatives of the two candidates and their alliances, to correct the mistakes identified during the first round.
Those are appropriate measures in the right direction, which need to be sustained throughout the transition period. In addition to this, the interim military ruler, General Sékouba Konaté, should also be encouraged to intervene more often than he currently is doing, so that the respect, but also fear, that all stakeholders have for him may deter any violence during or after the poll.
Written by: Issaka K. Souaré and Reine Sylvie Loua, African Conflict Prevention Programme, ISS Pretoria office