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Guineans Vote in Landmark Presidential Election

  • Anne Look

Guineans are voting Sunday in what many hope will be the country's first free and fair presidential election since independence in 1958.

For Guinea's 4.2 million registered voters, the national poll is their first opportunity to freely elect their leader.

The vote is meant to return Guinea to civilian government after 18 months of military rule. Those tumultuous months of political crisis have given way to an electoral season marked by great enthusiasm and hope for Guinea, as the country tries to end more than 50 years of dictatorial rule.

The Economic Community of West African States is one of several international bodies, including the European Union and the African Union, with election-observation missions.

Observers say a smooth election could set an example for Guinea's neighbors and be a boost for democracy and stability in the region.

The Economic Community of West African States is one of several international bodies, including the European Union and the African Union, with election-observation missions.

Speaking Saturday in Conakry, a spokesperson for the ECOWAS mission says with this vote, Guineans will be able to express themselves freely and in doing so, place themselves firmly on their way to democracy. She says ECOWAS asks everyone, especially candidates and their supporters, to show restraint and tolerance and not engage in violence, and to remember Guinea has already paid a heavy price, often in blood, to reach this crucial moment.

Six people died and at least 20 were injured Thursday in Coyah, about 50 kilometers outside the capital, Conakry, in a confrontation between supporters of two candidates. It has been the only major incidence of electoral violence in what the international community has applauded as a largely peaceful campaign.

A military junta seized power in Guinea in December 2008, hours after the death of longtime president, Lansana Conte.

Guinea is still reeling from a military attack on an opposition demonstration in Conakry in September of last year. More than 150 people were killed and dozens of women raped. They were protesting the suspected intentions of junta leader, Captain Moussa Dadis Camara, to run for president. Camara had initially pledged not to seek to remain in power. He went into exile after being shot and wounded by an aide late last year.

Members of the transitional government organizing the June 27 poll were not eligible to run, and military authorities have pledged that soldiers will remain in their camps on voting day.

The logistical planning chief of Guinea's independent electoral commission, El Hadj Boubacar Diallo, said Saturday that despite having only six months to organize the vote, the commission would be ready for the poll.

Diallo says we are finalizing all preparations. He says there are certain details to be taken care of Saturday night. He says we still have voting materials to get out, but with helicopters, they should go out quickly.

Front-runners among the 24 presidential candidates include long-time opposition leader Alpha Conde and former prime ministers Cellou Dalein Diallo and Sidya Toure.

If no candidate wins a clear majority in Sunday's vote, a run-off between the two top-scoring candidates is planned for July 18. Results are expected early this week.

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