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March 29, 2013

Minister: Guinea to Hold Polls With or Without Opposition

Guinea will hold long-delayed parliamentary elections this year, to conclude its transition to civilian rule, with or without the participation of the country's main opposition coalition, a government minister said on Friday.

The mineral-rich country originally was supposed to hold the vote in 2011, but it was held up amid wrangling over the makeup of the electoral commission and opposition accusations that the government was planning to rig it.

Eight people were killed and hundreds more wounded during two weeks of clashes this month between security forces and opposition protesters demanding reforms before the election, currently scheduled for May 12, could be held.

Guinea's minister for territorial administration, Alhassane Conde, told Reuters the objections would not block the vote. Guinea President Alpha Conde is not related to the minister.

"Yes, the elections will be held this year, very soon, with or without the opposition," Conde said in an interview at his office in the capital Conakry's administrative district. We don't want to do it without them, but if necessary, we will go ahead and hold the election without them," he said.

Prolonged transition

The vote is meant to be the last step in a drawn-out transition to civilian rule after a coup in late 2008 led to two bloody years with the army in charge.

Conde accused some members of the opposition of making unacceptable conditions to try and delay elections he said they feared losing.

Opposition groups have alleged there were irregularities in awarding a contract to update the electoral register to the South African firm Waymark - and demanded a replacement.

"If we were to bring in a new company to replace Waymark, there is no way we'll be able to organize the election within the next six months," said Conde.

The European Union, a major donor, unblocked about 174 million euros [$223.43 million] in aid after the elections commission proposed a date for the parliamentary polls late last year. But Conde said Guinea risked losing future donor funding if elections were not held by September.

More protest

The opposition this week walked out of talks with the government organized in the wake of this month's violence, accusing the ruling coalition of failing to respect the terms of a planned dialogue over election preparations.

The opposition coalition on Friday called for another round of protests and a strike from April 8, saying the government has not contacted them since they abandoned the talks.

Guinea's main opposition leader Cellou Dalein Diallo, who lost to President Conde in a tight presidential run-off in November 2010, told Reuters last week the opposition would do everything to stop the election if it was held without them.

"We'll not participate in the election with Waymark handling the technical process, and we'll disrupt it. We do not want the election to be held without us," Diallo told Reuters during a visit to Senegal.

Guinea is the world's top supplier of the aluminum ore bauxite and holds rich deposits of iron ore, gold and diamonds. But the political turmoil has unnerved investors.

Behind Guinea's political feuding there is a deep-rooted rivalry between the Malinke and the Peul, its two largest ethnic groups. The Malinke broadly support President Conde, while the opposition draws heavily from the Peul.