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Guineans Hope for Clean Local Election

Opposition parties in Guinea are participating in local elections for the first time in five years. The elections are being held as the economy in the West African nation is decaying.

Turnout was low in some parts of the capital Conakry, but higher in others, according to journalist Pauline Bax.

"I just came from an opposition neighborhood where the people there said the turnout was pretty good. People were quite enthusiastic about being able to vote," she said. "They were all hoping that this time the vote would be transparent and democratic because the foreign donors are helping with the vote."

Foreign donors want to see proof the elections are democratic before giving more aid, after many elections widely viewed as rigged under President Lansana Conte, in power since a coup in 1984.

Opposition parties have been boycotting polls since 2000, but decided to take part in these. Nearly 40 mayors, including five in Conakry, and more than 300 rural councils are being selected.

Mrs. Bax says many voters were somewhat bewildered by the process.

"The main problem that a lot of voters have is that they do not really know who they are voting for," she added. "What they get is a vote bulletin and they have to choose the party that they vote for, but they usually do not know the candidates by heart. The candidates are not listed on the bulletin, so they are actually just voting for a party when in reality they are voting for a candidate."

Some residents in opposition areas also complained they did not get their voting card in time.

Main opposition parties are the Union for Progress and Renewal, the Rally for the Guinean People and the Union of Republican Forces.

But their leaders said that many opposition candidates were rejected on formalities, such as providing documents, which they were unable to produce in areas without electricity and photocopiers.

The election comes amid soaring prices for basic goods and decaying infrastructure, as well as growing student protests over worsening living conditions.