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which should only have been for a six month-duration according to current legislation, but which have not been rescinded.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.