Category Archives: Guinea

Guinea’s long-awaited local elections – A step backwards in its troubled electoral history?

Guest post by Ulrike Rodgers, Senior Program Manager, National Democratic Institute (NDI)

On February 4, the nearly six million Guinean registered voters were called to elect 7012 local councilors in 342 districts (communes). Nearly 30,000 candidates, including independents, ran for local office. After 13 years in the making, the elections were to be an important milestone on Guinea’s bumpy road to democracy that began only in 2010 with its first multiparty presidential election since independence from France 52 years earlier. However, an exhausted electorate, frustrated by years of political wrangling marked by spikes of deadly violence, and a lack of economic and social progress, responded less enthusiastically to the call to elect their local leaders than in previous elections. Just under 54 pour cent of voters turned out, according to the National Independent Electoral Commission’s (CENI) estimates, a decline from over 64 percent in the September 2013 legislative elections, and over 68 percent for the 2015 presidential elections. The ruling party failed to win an overall majority of councilor seats and lost the capital Conakry to opposition parties and independent candidates. Moreover, doubts remain over the integrity of the election, mainly linked to allegations of irregularities after polling stations closed.

Guinea’s troubled electoral history is rooted in the decades of autocratic single-party rule, marked by political violence and military coups, which stunted the development of a political culture striving for consensus over confrontation. Guinea began engaging in democratic reforms nearly 20 years after many other African countries. The first round of the 2010 elections resulted in a runoff between former opposition leaders Alpha Condé, briefly jailed by then-president Lansana Conté in 2001, and Cellou Diallo Dalein, Conté’s prime minister from 2004 to 2006.  The second round was postponed for months because of deadly violence between supporters of the two finalists. Condé won the second round with 52.52 percent in October 2010, which surprised many as Dalein had led after the first round with nearly 44 percent, trailed by Condé with 18.25 percent. To this day, many of Dalein’s supporters feel that the election was stolen from them. These resentments flared up violently in the lead up to parliamentary elections in September 2013 and led to over 100 dead. The elections were postponed several times until the United Nations brokered an agreement between government and opposition. The international community supported a large international and domestic contingent of election observers to enhance trust in the electoral process and prevent violence. Domestic and international non-partisan observers as well as Guinea’s courts deemed the elections legitimate, but the opposition alleged that the government had manipulated voter lists and misused government resources to fuel its campaign.

President Condé was re-elected for his second term in October 2015 in the first round with 58 percent of the vote. Observers deployed again in large numbers.  Despite serious deficiencies noted during the electoral campaign and shortcomings on election day, domestic observation groups and the European Union, in its post-election report, concluded that the process was overall valid.

Local elections were to be held shortly afterwards, but were postponed several times due to controversies over the CENI’s impartiality, the integrity of the voter registry, lack of resources, and because of the Ebola epidemic that ravaged the country from 2014 to 2016. Guineans had elected their local leaders for the last time in 2005. That year, to quell any political opposition, and risks of instability seeping in from Guinea’s war-torn neighbors, Sierra Leone and Liberia, Lansana Conté organized local elections to consolidate his party’s control of local government, which it won handily with over 80 percent of the votes. In the years prior, his regime had violently cracked down on Guinea’s historically powerful traditional and ethnic local leaders, often stoking ethnic tensions to its advantage.  To this day, many Guinean families harbor deep-rooted suspicions against the central government in Conakry; ethnic divisions remain prevalent across the country.

In the absence of local elections, Guinea’s local governments were run by central government appointees (Délégations spéciales) from 2010 to 2016 after their mandate had expired in 2010. Rejected by the opposition as illegitimate, they were a source of recurring political tensions. In October 2016, government and opposition reached an agreement to replace them with interim delegates appointed proportionally according to the votes obtained by each party in the legislative elections, while preparing for local elections.

The local election campaign opened in early January, 2018. Many described the atmosphere in the capital Conakry as muted, whereas the regions reported an unusually high influx of political personalities, mainly belonging to the ruling coalition. Violent incidents remained rare in the lead up to February 4. Election day was also largely calm. Domestic observer groups commended the Guinean people on a peaceful election, whilst deploring organizational shortcomings such as a lack of voting materials and late openings of polling stations. However, as the votes were still being counted, opposition parties alleged widespread fraud, including the stuffing of ballot boxes. Violence in the days following the elections cost ten lives. Unclear procedural instructions have since resulted in a number of contradictory decisions by local courts on election-related complaints.

The CENI’s provisional results indicate that President Conde’s RPG took 1.35 million votes, electing some 3,284 councilors (47 percent).  Cellou Dalein Diallo’s Union of Democratic Forces of Guinea (UFDG) won 893,000 votes to gain 2,156 councilors (31 percent). Former Prime Minister Sidya Touré’s Union of Republican Forces (UFR) won 190,000 votes, resulting in 447 council seats (6 percent). The remaining 1,125 seats – or 16 percent of the total, a significant minority – were won by candidates from small parties or independents. Over the coming weeks, Guinea’s communes will choose their mayors and deputy mayors. The mayors will then proceed to elect eight regional councils and, at the local level, designate ‘neighborhood leaders’ (chefs de quartiers).

Although the ruling party obtained a relative majority at the polls, it lost the capital Conakry, where over a quarter of Guinea’s population live, to the opposition and independent candidates. Pending the availability of additional data on voter turnout, the results could be an indication that voters are tired of campaign promises that remain empty and the political elite’s disconnect from their daily struggles.  Especially in the larger communes, campaign themes focused on high unemployment, poor public health care, education, widespread corruption, and Conakry’s ever-growing mountains of garbage. They resonated well with voters, prompting them to elect independent or small party candidates, for example in Beyla (N’Zérékore), Coyah (Kindia), Kaloum (Conakry), Faranah and Siguiri (Kankan).

Guinea’s governing and main opposition parties may be well advised to start listening up to citizens’ concerns as they start preparing for legislative elections later this year, and presidential polls in 2020. Moreover, the lack of trust in the local elections’ results, mainly linked to allegations of fraud after the closing of polling stations and a lack of transparent communication by the CENI, has cast renewed doubts on Guinea’s capacities to organize transparent elections in the future without substantial international oversight. The anticipated coalition negotiations could provide a sneak preview on potential future political alliances ahead of the next legislative and presidential polls.

Guinea – High stakes presidential poll

Six million Guinean voters went to the polls yesterday, October 11, to elect their president for the next five years. Incumbent President Alpha Conde of the Rassemblement du Peuple de Guinee (RPG) ran for a second term. Conde faced off against Cellou Dalein Diallo of the Union des Forces Democratiques de Guinee (UFDG) and six other candidates. Cellou Dalein came second in the hotly contested presidential run-off of December 2010 which Conde won narrowly with 52.5 percent of the vote. If none of the candidates wins an absolute majority in Sunday’s election, Guinea could again face a second round presidential poll in a tense political context. Five of the candidates in this year’s poll also ran in 2010.

While the electoral campaign was largely peaceful, tensions heated up significantly in the last two days ahead of election day, as the candidates returned to Conakry from their campaigns in the regions and their supporters came out in the thousands to greet their return. Three people were killed on October 9th, as RPG and UFDG supporters clashed in Conakry. Clouds of smoke rose against the horizon as shops and cars burned in the Madina neighborhood. That same evening, the constitutional court threw out a request by the 7 opposition candidates to postpone the election to give time to address problems with printing and distribution of voter cards and other concerns. The 7 opposition candidates immediately issued a statement threatening to not accept the election results under these conditions.

Despite these tensions, election day was largely peaceful. Overall, calm prevailed, though many polling stations opened late and there were problems with missing ballots and other material, notably in the region of Nzerekore and in the commune of Ratoma in Conakry. Also, voter lists with names in no logical order slowed down the process and made tempers rise.  “The election commission was not as ready as it claimed,” was the midday assessment by the EU observer delegation. To address some of these problems, the election commission issued five special orders during the day, including to allow people with voter cards whose names were not on the polling unit list to vote; to allow ballots to be cast without being inserted in an envelope; and to extend the close of the vote from 6 pm to 8 pm. The network of Guinean election observers “Regard Citoyen” noted that some of these decisions contradict the electoral code. “Regard Citoyen” will issue its preliminary statement on the entire election process on Tuesday, October 13, based on reports from 6,000 observers.

Politics and political parties in Guinea are highly influenced by regional and ethnic identification. The two largest ethnic groups are the Peul (40 percent of the population) and the Malinke (30 percent). The third largest group is the Soussou (20 percent), and the remaining 10 percent are scattered among smaller ethnic groups. Ethnic groups are geographically concentrated. The main political parties and presidential candidates tend to be closely associated with a particular region/ethnic group. The two principal candidates – Alpha Conde and Cellou Dalein – belong to the two main ethnic groups, Malinke and Peul, respectively.

The 2010 presidential poll was marred by significant violence and clashes principally between supporters of Alpha Conde and Cellou Dalein, in many cases taking on ethnic overtones and pitting Malinke against Peul. At least 7 people were killed and election-related violence persisted in the lead-up to the 2013 poll, leaving 50 people dead.

With the 2010 and 2013 violence in fresh memory, there is concern that the declaration of election results could lead to renewed clashes between supporters of Alpha Conde and of opposition candidates. Participants in the live coverage of election night on national Guinean TV (RTG) repeatedly called for “peace and serenity.” While awaiting the election commission’s preliminary results the website http://www.guineevote.com/vote/ provides regular news updates, incident reporting and results from individual polling units as they become available.

Guinea Conakry – A contested electoral calendar

Guinea’s Independent Election Commission (CENI) has published its electoral calendar, scheduling the presidential election for October 11, 2015. Local council elections will be delayed – again – to take place during the first quarter of 2016. The opposition disapproves of this calendar and demands that local elections take place before the presidential race.

Why is the timing of the local elections so crucial, in the eyes of the opposition? Last time local polls took place in Guinea was in December 2005, when long-serving autocrat Lansana Conté was still in power. Conté died in December 2008 and a tumultuous two-year transition period followed, concluding with presidential polls in December 2010 in which Alpha Condé of the RPG was elected with 52.5 percent of the votes cast in a run-off against Cellou Dalein Diallo from the UFDG. Though international and domestic observers deemed the presidential election to be credible, the losing candidate and allied parties contested the outcome.

In March and May 2011, newly elected President Condé dismissed a number of municipal and communal councils for poor financial and administrative management. He appointed ‘special delegates’ to replace the elected councilors, appointments which should only have been for a six month-duration according to current legislation, but which have not been rescinded. Councilors who were not removed have remained in place and will complete their tenth year in office by December of this year – two full five-year mandates without reelection.

Opposition parties argue that the special delegates appointed by the government cannot be trusted to act independently in the organization of the upcoming presidential poll. Special delegations are in place in municipalities such as Beyla and Macenta at the heart of Guinée Forestière, the south-eastern and most remote part of Guinea bordering Liberia and Cote d’Ivoire. This is a region that is likely to be particularly hotly contested in the upcoming polls, as it does not identify itself with any of the major political parties. The same is true for the Basse Côte region, by the coast, where municipalities in Boffa, Fria and Coyah are also operating as special delegations.

Election scheduling has been a recurring source of tensions, since the fiercely contested 2010 presidential poll. The second round of that election took place with a four-month delay, in December 2010. Legislative elections which should have been held within six months after the swearing in of the new president only took place in September 2013, following a UN-mediated July 3, 2013 agreement between the opposition and the government. The RPG won 53 of the 114 legislative seats and secured a slight majority with smaller allied parties. The UFDG is the largest opposition party with 37 elected representatives in the National Assembly.

Local elections should have taken place during the first quarter of 2014, according to the July 3, 2013 agreement. However, on March 2, 2014 the CENI suspended these polls until further notice, citing a lack of funding. When it announced its most recent electoral calendar, the CENI justified the shifting of the local polls till next year by delays in election preparations which mean it would take one more year for the elections to be organized.

Following the recent announcement of the new electoral calendar, the opposition has declared its intention to resume street demonstrations which have given rise to violence, loss of life and property destruction in the past. The government has called for dialogue, which has yet to happen. Tensions rose further over the week-end following an armed attack against opposition spokesperson Aboubacar Sylla. Opposition representatives have called for a march on April 13 to denounce increasing insecurity. In the absence of consensus on the electoral calendar and pending electoral reform, the next six months promise to be tense as the count-down to the presidential poll continues.

Francophone Africa – Important election year ahead

Francophone Africa will see six presidential elections take place this year, many of which in countries emerging from crisis and violence. Legislative and local polls are scheduled in five and six countries, respectively. 2015 will thus be a bellwether of democratic development trends in Central and West Africa over the next several years. Will democratic gains be consolidated in countries such as Cote d’Ivoire and Guinea, which last time saw significant election-related violence in contested presidential polls? Will presidential and legislative races in the Central African Republic (CAR) finally bring peace and stability following the March 2013 coup? Will Burkina see a complete renewal of its political leadership through upcoming national and local polls, following the ouster of Blaise Compaoré in a popular uprising in October 2014? How will debates around presidential term limits evolve in Togo and Burundi (and the two Congos scheduled to have presidential polls next year)?

Table 1: 2015 elections in Francophone Africa

Country Presidential Legislative Local polls
Benin April (TBC) March (TBC)
Burkina Faso October October TBD
Burundi June May May
CAR July (TBC) TBD
Chad TBD
Cote d’Ivoire October
DRC TBD
Guinea Conakry June (TBC) TBD
Mali TBD
Togo March

As indicated in Table 1 above, the Togolese will be the first to kick off the Francophone presidential contests, in March – preceded by their Anglophone brethren in Zambia (January) and Nigeria (February). Faure Gnassingbé will stand for a third term, as presidential term limits were eliminated already in 2002 under his father’s rule. Without the reintroduction of term limits, which opposition parties are clamoring for, Faure – who is only 48 years old – could well top or even surpass his father’s 38 year rule. The opposition may feel validated by the findings of a recent Afrobarometer polling of Togolese across the country. The survey found that even among the president’s supporters, 78% of those interviewed are in favor of presidential term limits.

In Burundi, Pierre Nkurunziza will similarly stand for a third term using a technicality – that he wasn’t directly elected the first time – to justify his candidature. The fragile peace in the country could be threatened by shrinking political space and the apparent collapse of the powersharing agreement enshrined in the 2000 Arusha Peace Accords, following opposition by Tutsi-led Uprona to Nkurunziza’s third bid for the presidency. According to Afrobarometer (Figure 2), a slight majority (51%) of Burundians agree with the opposition on the desirability of term limits.

In Guinea and Cote d’Ivoire, presidents who came to power five years ago in highly contested polls marred by violence, particularly in Cote d’Ivoire, will stand for a second term – Alpha Condé in Guinea and Alassane Ouattara in Cote d’Ivoire. In highly polarized political environments, characterized by deep mistrust between supporters of the incumbents and their leading rivals, the independent election commissions have a huge responsibility for the organization of well administered polls that can build confidence in the credibility of the electoral outcome. In both countries, continued dialogue between government and opposition can help build consensus around the electoral calendar and abate tensions.

In CAR, hope is high that the upcoming presidential poll can help bring stability to the country. However, there is concern among some Central African civic and political leaders that the transition process is overly driven by the international community, which is pressuring for a compressed election calendar – with presidential polls to take place in the middle of the rainy season, in July. Greater ownership of the transition and electoral process by the Central Africans will be important for ensuring the legitimacy of the newly elected leaders of the country.

In Burkina Faso, interim president Michel Kafando has recently announced coupled legislative and first round presidential polls in October, with the presidential run-off to take place in November, if there is one. These will be the most competitive elections in nearly three decades. Some Burkinabe are worried, however, that the military maintains undue influence over the process, following the nomination of Lt. Col. Isaac Zida as prime minister. Zida was second in command of the presidential guard and appointed as transition leader by the military in the days following Compaoré’s ouster, though he was forced to rapidly relinquish power to a civilian by significant domestic and international pressure.  The transition roadmap is unclear on the relative distribution of authority and responsibilities between president and prime minister and some civil society activists are quite cozy with the military. So it will be important for independent-minded civil society groups to maintain an active monitoring of the transition process, and for political parties to remain united in their effort to push for transparent, credible polls.

All in all, 2015 promises to be an interesting election year. The stakes are high for the individual countries discussed here, and their election outcomes will influence the prospects for strengthening democratic institutions and practices across the continent.

Guinea – Opposition demonstrations to begin anew as political dialogue falters

Following failure to achieve consensus on action points from the July 1st – 9 political dialogue between ruling and opposition parties, Guinean opposition parties have declared their intent to resume street demonstrations. Opposition parties claim that the government has misrepresented the recommendations agreed upon by the two parties, aimed at paving the way for a peaceful presidential poll in 2015. The opposition thus intends to organize a political manifestation in Conakry on August 4th. During demonstrations in 2011-2013, more than 60 opposition activists were killed in protests over the modalities for organizing legislative elections.

Opposition grievances center on delays in the organization of local elections and the lack of progress on other provisions of a political agreement signed on July 3, 2013 between opposition and majority parties. According to that agreement, local polls should have taken place by the end of the first quarter of 2014. In March 2014, however, the election commission postponed the elections indefinitely citing a lack of funds. Mistrust between the government and opposition parties has since festered. The 54 seats held by opposition parties in the 114-seat National Assembly remained empty for three weeks, during the most recent legislative session, inhibiting the passage of laws requiring a two thirds majority to be adopted. This included the adoption of rules of procedure to govern the legislature’s own work.

In late June, the Minister of Territorial Administration Alhassane Condé made overtures to the opposition to resume dialogue stalled since the September 2013 legislative elections. Dialogue effectively resumed on July 1st and concluded with apparent success and the opposition resuming its seats in the legislature. Discussions centered on five agenda points:

  • The choice of a new operator for the revision of the voter registry through open tender;
  • The organization of local elections;
  • The political neutrality of the public service;
  • The prosecution of actors responsible for violence related to last year’s legislative elections and the compensation for victims of that violence; and
  • The establishment of follow-up and monitoring committees to facilitate implementation and oversight of agreed-upon action points.

Problems arose when the Minister of Territorial Administration forwarded a synthesis of the decisions made during the dialogue sessions for joint signature, on July 11. Opposition parties found that certain details had been glossed over, omitted or misrepresented. For example, the opposition complains that the synthesis prepared by the government omits the following points on which consensus was reached: that the current operator of the voter registry, Waymark/Sabary, cannot participate in the open tender for a new operator; that political parties should be associated with the elaboration of an election calendar for the local polls; and that disciplinary action will be taken against public servants found to violate the principle of neutrality in public service.

Guinea is clearly far from achieving a rebuilding of mutual trust after the highly contentious 2010 presidential poll. The opposition is particularly concerned that the open tender for the selection of a new operator for the revision of the voter registry appears to be moving ahead, while the follow-up and monitoring committees with representation of both opposition and ruling parties have not yet been seated. The Secretary General of the ruling party, Saloum Cisse, calls the opposition’s intent to resume demonstrations an unnecessary provocation, as the ‘door for dialogue is wide open.’ Hopefully, ruling and opposition parties will succeed in achieving a common understanding of the outcome of the dialogue earlier this month to avoid tensions escalating further and a resumption of violence.

Guinea – Supreme Court upholds results of September legislative elections

On Friday, November 15, final results were at last issued by the Supreme Court of Guinea for the September 28th legislative polls. The Court declared itself ‘incompetent’ in addressing the electoral complaints filed by both opposition and ruling majority parties and referred them to lower courts for settlement. The opposition issued a declaration expressing regret and surprise over the Court’s decision, as this same Court cancelled results in five voting districts for the 2010 presidential polls. The opposition has raised the possibility of appealing the ruling to ‘supranational jurisdictions’ such as the ECOWAS Court of Justice.

Following the Supreme Court’s ruling, the preliminary results published by the independent election commission (CENI) stand. Accordingly, President Alpha Condé’s RPG controls a relative majority while the UFDG of opposition leader Cellou Dalein Diallo becomes the second largest party in the 114-seat National Assembly.  The distribution of seats in the newly elected legislature is as follows:

–          RPG       53

–          UFDG    37

–          UFR        10

–          UPG       2

–          PEDN     2

–          Remaining parties (GPT, GRUP, GUD, NGR, PGRP, PNR, PTS, RDIG, UGDD and UPR) 1 seat each

The RPG has formed a coalition with a number of smaller parties (GRUP, GUD, PNR, PTS, UGDD, UPR), thereby securing 59 seats – enough to control an absolute majority in the legislature. This number could increase if the RPG succeeds in wooing smaller parties currently aligned with the opposition, for example through promises of cabinet posts.

The opposition is currently considering its options. Some neighborhoods of Conakry have seen clashes between opposition activists and police as opposition leaders have reconvened to determine their strategy following the Court’s ruling. A joint decision by the opposition parties is expected next week.

To boycott or not to boycott? With 50+ seats and its major leaders elected (Cellou Dalein Diallo, Jean Marie Doré, Kassory Fofana, Lansana Kouyaté, Bah Souleymane, Aboubacar Sylla, Jean Marc Telliano, and Sidya Touré among others) the opposition is well positioned to play an active role in the legislature. This presupposes that the logic of ‘winner-take-all’ does not prevail in the allocation of leadership positions in the National Assembly. If all major political groupings are willing and able to take part in the organization and the daily functioning of the Assembly, through adequate representation in leadership meetings and committee work, the legislature could become a forum for political dialogue and allow the development of democratic practice.

The long waiting period between the elections and the final results and the close outcome of the polls is likely to have prepared the ground for an acceptance of the final outcome. Active participation in the legislature would allow the opposition to press for electoral reform and the implementation of remaining elements of the July 3, 2013 agreement facilitated by UNSG Special Representative Said Djinnit that paved the way for the peaceful holding of the legislative polls. The opposition’s winning strategy may well be to accept the results of a flawed process (read the preliminary statement from the EU election observation mission here) in the hopes of improving conditions for the 2015 presidential race.