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Guinean Opposition Protests Makeup of Electoral Commission

  • Nancy Palus

Protesters gather as thousands rally to call for the departure of South African company Waymark, which was hired by the Guinean government to re-do the country's electoral list, in Conakry, Guinea, September 20, 2012.

Protesters gather as thousands rally to call for the departure of South African company Waymark, which was hired by the Guinean government to re-do the country's electoral list, in Conakry, Guinea, September 20, 2012.

Guinea’s opposition is protesting the makeup of the electoral commission, appealing to the country’s highest court and threatening street demonstrations. It is the latest phase in the sometimes violent battle between the ruling party and the opposition over long-overdue legislative polls.

The Guinean government this week announced the membership of the independent electoral commission, which must be in place so the country can move forward with a long-delayed parliamentary election. But some opposition leaders say the list is unlawful because it does not include the legally required number of opposition members.

Aboubacar Sylla is spokesperson for Guinea’s main opposition coalition.

Speaking to reporters on Tuesday, he said the government’s list includes only nine of the 10 members submitted by the coalition. The group is asking Guinea’s highest court to suspend the electoral commission’s work until a new list can be established - one that conforms with the law, he says.

Opposition leaders have said if the high court validates the government-decreed list, they will call for street demonstrations. In recent months, street protests in the capital of Conakry have ended up in violent and sometimes deadly clashes; the opposition says police and gendarmes use excessive force, while the government accuses opposition militants of attacking the security forces.

Under Guinean law, the electoral commission is to be made up 10 people from the opposition, 10 from the ruling party, with five from civil society and the administration.

The party taking up the opposition's 10th spot is considered “centrist." The dispute points in part to a debate over who makes up Guinea’s legitimate opposition. For Elizabeth Côté, head of IFES in Guinea - International Foundation for Electoral Systems, it’s down to a lack of clarity in the law.

She says neither the constitution nor the electoral law refers to “centrist” parties, even though there are long-time opponents who call themselves "centrist." For Côté this is all part of a process to establish a democratic system - something that will take time in a country that has spent most of its 54 years under autocratic rule.

Many opposition supporters still contest President Alpha Condé’s rise to power in Guinea’s first-ever competitive presidential election in 2010. Guinea was to hold a parliamentary election within six months of that poll, but since then it’s been political deadlock, with the opposition and the presidential party blaming each other for delays.

Guinea has not had an elected parliament since 2008, when soldiers took power upon the death of Lansana Conté.

Alhoussein Makanera is advisor with the government ministry overseeing election preparations (The Ministry of Territorial Administration and Decentralization). He says the coalition protesting the list is the “radical” opposition who refuses to include more moderate actors in the electoral commission.

He says this opposition coalition does not want to go to parliamentary elections, plain and simple. There are parties that oppose those in power but do not share the same position and strategy of this radical opposition - which he says includes vandalizing public property and insulting the president.

Electoral commission members were to be sworn in and elect the commission's president on Wednesday, but this has been postponed pending the outcome of this latest dispute.
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