Tag Archives: election-related violence

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.

Burundi – President Nkurunziza reelected, what now?

On July 21, 2015, President Pierre Nkurunziza was reelected for a highly controversial third term.  According to official results, he won 69.41 percent of the votes in a poll boycotted by some opposition candidates. The runner-up was Agathon Rwasa, leader of the National Liberation Forces (FNL), who garnered 18.99 percent. Despite the boycott by opposition candidates, their names remained on the ballot as ballot papers had already been printed before the boycott was announced. According to the election commission, the national average turn-out among the country’s 2.8 million voters was 73.44 percent, with a low of 29.75 percent in the capital Bujumbura (500,000 inhabitants) and much higher figures in the more populous rural areas (Burundi has a population of about 10 million people).

The vote took place following months of protests and violence triggered by Nkurunziza’s announcement on April 25th that he was standing for reelection [see previous blogpost on the third term controversy here]. Police used “excessive lethal force” and treated demonstrators and entire residential areas of Bujumbura as if they were part of an “insurrection,” according to a recent Amnesty International report, fueling further violence and pushing the country to the brink of conflict. Over 150,000 Burundians have fled to neighboring countries and more than 100 people have reportedly been killed.

Under pressure by the East African Community (EAC), the presidential election was postponed twice, from June 26th to July 15th and then to July 21st, to give negotiations a chance. Uganda’s President Yoweri Museveni (who has ruled his country for three decades) tried but failed to broker an agreement between the government and opposition. His efforts focused on the creation of a “government of national unity” following the presidential poll. Museveni also urged the “political class” of Burundi to focus less on “controlling government” and more on “the private sector” [unclear how that would have helped resolve the immediate political deadlock]. The United States State Department urgently called on “all parties in Burundi to commit themselves to constructive dialogue to resolve peacefully the political impasse that threatens to unravel the peace and stability ushered in by the implementation of the Arusha Agreement over a decade ago.”

Dialogue failed to materialize before the polls and Burundi now has a president whose legitimacy is in question. The EAC Observer Mission to Burundi concludes in its preliminary statement of July 23rd that “The electoral process fell short of the principles and standards for holding free, fair, peaceful, transparent and credible elections as stipulated in various international, continental as well as the EAC Principles of Election Observation and Evaluation.” A conclusion echoed by the UN observers in their preliminary statement of July 27th. The EU and US agree that the election was not credible.

What is the way out of the impasse? While everyone, including UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon is calling for a resumption of dialogue, the EAC suggestion of the creation of a government of national unity is the only concrete proposal on the table. Opposition leader Agathon Rwasa supports forming such a unity government, if its primary function is to organize new elections within a year. The president’s camp is also open to discussing a unity government, but has rejected the idea of cutting short Nkurunziza’s third mandate as “impossible.”

Who will tire out first, the opposition or Nkurunziza and the ruling party? As the newly elected parliament sat for the first time on July 27th, parts of the opposition took up their seats while others declared they will not – which could be a sign of weakening opposition cohesion. On the other hand, the government of Burundi depends on donor funding for 52 percent of the national budget. The EU is looking into asset freezes and travel bans targeting Burundian government officials considered responsible for violence and for hampering political dialogue. The US will be reviewing its assistance – which includes 80 million USD a year for Burundi’s military and security forces – over the next couple of months.

Hopefully a protracted stand-off will not result in renewed large scale violence and the fanning of ethnic flames from the 12-year long civil war that ended in 2005. Some opposition leaders living in exile, such as Alexis Sinduhije, have threatened to take up arms, while the Burundian government has expressed concern at allegations that the government of Rwanda is supporting armed groups. The next potential trigger for violence is the official enddate of President Nkurunziza’s current mandate, August 26th. After that date, according to the Forum for Strengthening the Civil Society (FORSC), Nkurunziza will be “an ordinary citizen” and can no longer “pretend to be the president of the people who did not appoint him to represent them.”

Credible and productive dialogue to end the stalemate would require a “moral chief mediator” accepted by both parties, playing the role of “facilitator” as Nelson Mandela did during the Arusha peace process (Mason 2008, p. 21). The regional countries have yet to find a statesman of the same stature and with a similar personality to play that role.