Towards the Most Open Poll in Guinea’s History?

10th June 2010 By: ISS, Institute for Security Studies

The 4.5 million registered voters in Guinea are expected to vote for their next president on 27 June this year. The official start of campaigning for the poll kicked off on 17 May. A week later, on 24 May, the Supreme Court released the names of 24 candidates, out of 36 applicants, who have been approved to stand for the poll. All but one are male. They include four former prime ministers who served under former president Lansana Conté namely Sidya Touré, François Loncey Fall, Cellou Dalein Diallo and Lansana Kouyaté. It also includes the former and last Speaker of Parliament under Conté, Aboubacar Somparé and a host of former cabinet ministers, some of whom served under former junta leader Dadis Camara. The list also includes the name of the all-time opposition leader Professor Alpha Condé.

This comes after the adoption, in early May, of a new constitution drafted by the Transitional National Council (CNT), acting as legislative body in lieu of an elected parliament. Amongst other things, the new constitution restored the maximum two five-year terms provision, which Conté had done away with in 2001. Because independent candidatures are not allowed by the constitution, all the candidates are sponsored by political parties.

Apart from the general rules regarding eligibility conditions, each candidate had to pay a deposit of 400 million Guinean Francs (about US$80,000) and successfully pass a medical test carried out by a medical council. The deposit is only refundable to candidates who will manage to garner at least 5 per cent of the votes, and the Supreme Court set up the medical council as per the newly adopted constitution, to ensure the physical and mental fitness of all the presidential hopefuls. Prior to this, each candidate only had to produce a medical certificate, often issued by his or her personal doctor.

Many observers find the list of 24 candidates to be plethoric. A blogger even joked that there is no need for elections and suggested that the 24 candidates just have to appoint two of them as President and Prime Minister and the rest should become cabinet ministers! Indeed, the number of candidates is likely to cause logistical problems for the electoral commission as well as practical ones for the voters, who are in their majority illiterate. This is partly why many analysts welcomed the costly deposit, even though it is a colossal sum of money in a poor country like Guinea. The aim was to discourage as many candidates as possible, particularly those who were not sure of their chances of mobilising sufficient support for their bid.

While still high, the number of 24 candidates represents a significant reduction of possible candidates as the country has more than 120 registered political parties. It is also important to acknowledge that the Supreme Court or the electoral commission could not eliminate candidates without an objective ‘legal' justification.

The analysis should therefore be on the possible directions the election is likely to take, and there are enough reasons to be optimistic in this regard. One is that the current head of the military junta and interim president, Brigadier-General Sékouba Konaté, seems to have lived up to his initial promise that neither himself nor the Prime Minister of the transitional government or any member of this government or the army will be candidates. None of them appear on the list and none attempted to pose his candidature. This suggests a level playing field for the electoral competition, more so than at any time before in the country's history.

Another reason for optimism is the high probability of a second round on 17 July as no single candidate, unless broad coalitions are formed, is likely to gather the required absolute majority in the first round. This would make coalition building inevitable during the second round, which would, in turn, result in the ensuing government being a coalition and not dominated by a single party.

The media (both public and private) and civil society organisations are urging the political actors to conduct ‘civilised' campaigns and consider their colleagues as adversaries rather than as enemies. In that regard, there has so far not been any violent incident reported since active campaigning began. In fact, the military junta has set up a special force to ensure the security of the electoral process, which all political actors have saluted as a positive development.

These developments are in sharp contract to the situation in the country just a few months back. It is worth recalling that Guinea has been in a ‘transition process' since the death of its long time ruler, Lansana Conté, in December 2008. This death occasioned a military coup d'état led by Captain Moussa Dadis Camara who formed a military junta called National Council for Democracy and Development (CNDD). The junta was greeted with popular enthusiasm given the promises they made. Even the international community, starting with the AU and the regional grouping, ECOWAS, prudently supported the new regime. In January 2009, the junta formed a government led by a civilian prime minister and promised to organise credible elections by the end of that year in which they would not take part.

But a few months down the line, the military regime took a bumpy route that saw it lose the initial support of much of the populace and political actors outside government. This culminated in a huge opposition rally at the biggest football stadium of the country on 28 September 2009. The junta crushed this rally in blood, leaving a reported 157 protesters dead and scores injured. This event took away from the junta the little political support it still had and made it very isolated at home and abroad, with some cabinet ministers resigning in protest at the massacre. The tenure of the junta took another major twist in early December of the same year, when the head of the junta was shot by his aide-de-camp in an assassination attempt that saw him evacuated abroad for critical medial treatment.

Dadis Camara being in a state of fighting for his own life, he agreed to stay in neighbouring Burkina Faso to fully recover while the reigns of power passed on to his then Defence Minister, Konaté, whom many believe is the co-author of the military coup with Camara. Konaté promised to put the transition process back on track. He began by appointing a new Prime Minister from the opposition nominated by the latter, and then set up the CNT to revise the country's legal texts, particularly the suspended constitution and electoral laws. The holding of the forthcoming presidential election is expected to be the ultimate culmination of this process. Given the current conditions, one could legitimately hope that Guinea is heading towards the most open multiparty electoral competition in history.

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