Historic Guinean Poll to be Decided in a Second Round

23rd July 2010 By: ISS, Institute for Security Studies

On 27 June 2010, Guineans at home and abroad went to the poll to elect one of 24 aspirants as the new President of the Republic. Coming after a year and a half of a tumultuous military rule and decades of authoritarian regimes, the peaceful manner in which both the voters and candidates conducted themselves has been widely praised. The poll has been considered as the most open presidential election since the country regained its independence in 1958. Both the provisional results announced by the Electoral Commission on 2nd July and the final ones announced by the Supreme Court on 20 July concluded that none of the candidates managed to get the absolute majority required to win the poll at the first round. A run-off election is therefore necessary between the two top candidates: former Prime Minister Mamadou Cellou Dalein Diallo and long-time opposition leader, Professor Alpha Condé. The former came first with 43.69 per cent of the votes against 18.25 per cent for the latter.

It is widely believed that the irregularities observed in the conduct of the first round were mainly of a technical nature and/or due to the inexperience of members of the Electoral Commission and agents posted at polling stations. No one - including the candidates - has made a convincing case for intentional fraud. But this notwithstanding, some candidates had filed petitions to the Supreme Court with regard to alleged irregularities resulting from such technical problems and hoping to reverse the results in their favour. It is the examination of these complains that delayed the announcement of the definitive results by the Court, as required by the Constitution and the Electoral Act. After examination, the highest court in land decided to invalidate some 800 000 votes cast in the first round on technical grounds. It also discarded the votes in the communes of Ratoma and Matam in Conakry and the cities of Kankan, Faranah, Mandiana and Lola on the same technical grounds. Some of these places are considered electoral strongholds of the second-placed candidate. These deductions brought the turnout rate to a mere 52 per cent of registered voters.

Nevertheless all the candidates have accepted the verdict of the Supreme Court and vowed to abide by it. Given the various recommendations that have been submitted to the Electoral Commission, including from the two front-runners, it is hopeful that appropriate correctional measures will be taken to avoid a repetition of the technical shortcomings observed during the first round.

The peaceful conduct of the first round can be explained by the nature of the poll. Foretelling indicators for potential election violence in a presidential poll in Africa include: (i) whether there is an incumbent president or not, (ii) whether the incumbent is vying for re-election or not, (iii) how much stakes does the outgoing incumbent has in his succession, and (iv) how consensual - between the political actors - has the electoral process and management been. All those factors were favourable in the Guinean case: there was no incumbent, as the new head of the military junta respected his undertaking not to be a candidate or support one and there was wide consensus, amongst the political actors, about the rules of the game. Most importantly, all the candidates that so desired had their agents at polling stations to monitor the conduct and counting of the votes.

According to the Electoral Act, the second round of the poll should be held two weeks after the Supreme Court has announcement the final results. While the gap appears quite wide between the two candidates in the second round, one could argue that the race is still open and could go either way. This is so particularly that the final results announced by the Supreme Court only represent about half of registered voters. It is for this reason that both candidates seem confident that they can win. But alliance formations with other candidates ahead of this round will be crucial for both Alpha Condé and Cellou Dalein Diallo. In addition to ethnic and regional considerations, political strategy and the concessions each of the two frontrunners make to other candidates will be a determining factor in their respective fortunes.

Whoever wins eventually, he is not likely to win with more than 60 per cent of the votes and is bound to be faced with difficult tasks. In particular, (i) he will have to win over the hearts and minds of those that did not vote for him; (ii) breathe new life into the paralysed governance structures and curb corruption, (iii) deal with pressures - both internal and external - to render justice to the scores of victims of various past regimes, particularly those of the massacre of the 28 September 2009; and (iv) bring tangible changes to the lives of ordinary people. Addressing these issues will require an effective outreach policy to all Guineans, a good working relationship with the opposition, greater transparency and inclusiveness in the management of the state, and a genuine commitment to combat corruption and valorise the country's huge human and natural resources. On the issue of justice; reconciliation and restorative rather than retributive justice appears to be more appropriate in the present conditions, but this must be accompanied by genuine measures to ensure that past crimes are not repeated in future.

Written by: Issaka K. Souaré, senior researcher, African Conflict Prevention Programme, ISS Pretoria