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Guinea Voters Decide on Constitutional Referendum - 2001-11-12

Voters in Guinea went to the polls for a referendum on changing the constitution to allow longtime President Lansana Conte to serve more than two-terms. There is little doubt about the outcome, even if turnout at the polls was light.

Police and soldiers patrolled Guinea's major cities throughout the day, in order, officials say, to prevent any disturbance upon the announcement of the referendum's result. There is little cause for suspense, as opposition activists appear resigned to a win by President Lansana Conte and his supporters.

A coalition of opposition parties, known by its French initials CODEM, had called a boycott of the referendum, saying the vote would be rigged. Turnout was reported light in urban opposition strongholds. The proposed constitutional amendment would allow the president to abolish the two-term limit for heads of state. It will also extend the presidential term from five to seven-years and do away with the age limit of 70-years.

Mr. Conte came to power in 1984 leading a military coup. He won two elections in which the opposition alleged fraud during the 1990's. His current term is scheduled to end two-years from now. The opposition says Mr. Conte has decided to rule for life, and has no use whatsoever for laws that will keep him from doing just that. To bolster their argument, they say police systematically harassed opposition supporters and disrupted their rallies during the one-month campaign.

Western governments have expressed concern about the referendum and that the expected constitutional changes might prove harmful to Guinea's young democracy.

President Conte and his supporters reply that the referendum is, in fact, democracy in action. They say Mr. Conte had never planned to serve more than two-terms, but finally bowed to intense popular pressure and the wishes of his supporters.