Guinea: President Condé Must Assume His Responsibilities, So Should the Opposition
Guinea: President Condé Must Assume His Responsibilities, So Should the Opposition
Ebola en Guinée : une épidémie « politique » ?
Ebola en Guinée : une épidémie « politique » ?
Op-Ed / Africa

Guinea: President Condé Must Assume His Responsibilities, So Should the Opposition

In Conakry after a bleak period in May, when demonstrations marked disagreement between the government and opposition over impending legislative elections, negotiations have begun and political tension in Guinea has eased. Differences remain, however, over the electoral process. Both sides need to compromise if another round of political violence is to be avoided.

Eleven years after its last legislative elections and two and a half years after Alpha Condé's presidential victory in a disputed vote, Guinea still lacks a National Assembly. The opposition, led by Cellou Dalein Diallo, Sidya Touré and Lansana Kouyaté and with significant support from centrists, has accused the government of manipulating the electoral process to guarantee its victory. The presidential team, for its part, has claimed that the opposition does not want to contest an election it will lose and prefers to ruin the process. The accusations on both sides are severe and dialogue has been difficult. The opposition has staged street protests in which several dozen supporters of the opposition and a few members of the security forces have died since 2011.

On the suggestion of the Independent National Electoral Commission (referred to by its French acronym, CENI), whose authority is contested by the opposition, President Condé finally set the legislative elections for 30 June. He said he was ready to go to elections without the opposition, while the latter refused to present candidates and announced they would "prevent" the vote. In a country only at the beginning of its democratic experience, and whose politics are threatened by both military rule and ethnic competition, the situation is full of risks.

However, Guinea's political actors recently appear to have halted their march to chaos. A large number of people arrested during the May demonstrations have been set free. Discreet consultations continue. From mid-April, discussions have been supported by the Special Representative of the United Nations Secretary-General for West Africa, Said Djinnit.

The postponing of the elections, which many international actors now consider inevitable for technical reasons, should be taken as an opportunity to identify common ground. Given Guinea's tense atmosphere, we must not delude ourselves: whatever happens, there will be controversies and incidents. Nevertheless, it is still possible to ensure that tensions are reduced and do not escalate into broader conflict.

President Condé bears specific responsibility for the electoral stalemate. First, he repeatedly claims that as president he is "above" any dialogue between the opposition, his coalition, and his government.

Second, he continues to declare too often that he holds the opposition in low esteem. Finally, he attempted to impose his vision of creating a new electoral list, without consultation, after refusing to hold the legislative elections in the course of the 2010 presidential elections and with the same electoral apparatus. Facing the opposition's rejection of his decision, he then agreed to keep the existing lists, but aimed to impose their revision by selecting companies under non-competitive procedures. He has initiated half-baked dialogues, often very late in the day. For example, the request made to UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon to appoint a facilitator was followed immediately by setting, on 15 April, the date for the legislative elections for 30 June: this was largely seen as a way of closing off dialogue, and it took almost two months before tensions eased sufficiently for political negotiations to resume.

To win the opposition's confidence, the government will need to make concessions. Working with the CENI, it should set a realistic date for legislative elections and re-open registration of the electoral lists for those who boycotted the contested process. The elections are coming so late already, a little more time will not hurt. An ad hoc agreement to take decisions through consensus within the CENI, instead of simple majority voting, would help to cool the political temperature.

However, the opposition must also act responsibly. It should carefully study the means of securing the electoral registry proposed by the international troika, outline its criticisms and accept the outcome of a reasonable discussion. The opposition must also work with the government to defuse public tensions - accusations without evidence, insults and vicious ethno-regional insinuations must end. Finally, a debate on the revisions of the electoral law and technical changes for the presidential election in 2015 should begin in earnest.

Guinea's political actors seem to finally realise they brought the country, again, close to the abyss. Everyone is well aware that local conflicts and ethnic identities represent a broad range of tensions in Guinea, which could be heavily amplified during elections. Furthermore, it is clear that the Guinean military are not averse to fomenting coups and that security-sector reforms cautiously initiated by President Condé have not eliminated this risk. After difficult presidential elections in 2010 and before presidential elections in 2015, both the government and opposition should take advantage of these legislative elections to learn to accommodate each other and build the basis for a strong electoral culture.

The International Organisation of La Francophonie (known by its French acronym, OIF), the United Nations Development Program and the European Union have formed a troika to monitor the revision of the voter registry. Agreement is emerging over a number of controversial points, including the role of the South African company Waymark as a provider of software and hardware for the revision and how to handle the votes of Guineans abroad. Debate continues over a number of apparently technical details that are, in fact, freighted with politics.
 

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