DAKAR — Guinea finally goes to the polls Saturday to vote in legislative elections after two years of delays and deadly protests. Tensions are high, but many hope the election will allow Guineans to put the past four and a half years of tumultuous transition behind them.
Voters will be casting ballots for 114 National Assembly representatives amid heightened distrust between the ruling party and the opposition, and concerns of instability.
The poll that elected President Alpha Conde in 2010 inflamed ethnic tensions and led to three days of deadly violence. The poll that elected President Alpha Conde in 2010 inflamed ethnic tensions and led to three days of deadly violence. There were clashes between supporters of opposing camps, and human rights groups say the mostly Peul opposition supporters were targeted by security forces.
These legislative polls were supposed to take place in June 2011 but have been pushed back repeatedly due to wrangling over the organization of the poll.
The most recent delay came just a week ago when the vote was pushed from September 24 to September 28 after international mediation. The extra four days were to give the electoral commission time to correct what the opposition said were irregularities with the voter list and the placement of polling places following recent redistricting.
The new parliament is supposed to be the finishing touch to what has been a rocky transition to democracy after the death of authoritarian president, Lansana Conte, in December 2008 and a subsequent military coup thrust the country into chaos.
Guineans say they hope the election will send a message of stability.
Street seller Lancinet Kaba says "these elections are going to give credibility to the government. The legislature is the counterweight to the executive. Having a National Assembly will reassure donors and investors."
The opposition has accused and continues to accuse the electoral commission and the government of working to rig the elections in the ruling party's favor, something the government and the ruling party deny.
Many Guineans say they are just ready to move on.
Shop owner Amara Conde says "no election is perfect. If you want to wait and correct everything, then this election will never happen. We need to put the country first. We have been waiting for this election for years."
The wrangling over the date and the organization of the poll has largely eclipsed campaign issues. The vote's high stakes stem in part from the fact that many see this legislative vote as a warm-up match for the 2015 presidential race.
The ruling party has defended the the government's track record, including reforms and infrastructure investments. The opposition has called on voters to "sanction" the government of President Conde which they say has not done enough to improve standards of living.
President of the women of the opposition party UFR, Hadja Fatoumata Daffe, says "look at the conditions these women are living in. It's terrible. They promised us so much but look they are still here in the same conditions. We need real change this time."
Despite tensions, campaigning was calm and election officials say preparations were done on time.
More than 5,000 national and international observers are on the ground in Guinea for the vote.