Friday, 11 October 2013

GUINEA-: Election Fallout & Road to Democracy

Guineans at home and abroad finally went to the polls on Sept. 28 to elect 114 members of parliament. Despite multiple delays and a series of demands from the opposition for fair political competition, preliminiary results suggest that President Alpha Conde’s ruling Rally of the Guinean People (RPG) party won a relative majority, thus solidifying the gains made during Conde’s first three years in power and further intensifying the rivalry between the country’s different political factions.

So far CENI has withheld results from a number of individual constituencies. It is still not known who has won in two important districts of the capital Conakry, with more than 700,000 voters. In the second largest city, Nzerekore, where the opposition is strong, the winner is also not clear.

However, the opposition Union of Democratic Forces of Guinea (UFDG) coalition has disputed the early results and withdrawn from the vote-counting process in protest. So while Guinea’s transition is now officially over, much remains to be done in terms of political dialogue ahead of the 2015 presidential ballot.

The question now is whether a political solution can be found that is acceptable to both sides. On Tuesday the opposition pulled out of talks organized by the UN. International observers are pressing both sides to follow the legal path and allow the Supreme Court to rule on the legality of the elections - and to accept the ruling.

Delayed multiple times since 2007, the elections carried abnormally high stakes. The current legislative body, the National Transitional Council (CNT), was established in 2010 as part of the Ouagadougou Accords, which brought an end to the period of military rule ushered in by the coup that followed former President Lansana Conte’s death in December 2008. The council enjoyed the same prerogatives as an elected parliament, and was the last remaining transitional body. Thus, its dissolution will both symbolize and formalize the end of a troubled political transition while simultaneously completing the slow shift to a full but fragile democracy.

The Ouagadougou Accords stipulated that legislative elections were to take place six months after Conde’s inauguration in December 2010. However, the political dialogue between the RPG and UFDG coalition under Cellou Dallein Diallo was marred by rumors, suspicions, conspiracy theories and ethnic tensions, preventing any constructive debate that would generate a consensus around important issues. An agreement signed in July in Conakry was a decisive turning point in the holding of the long-overdue legislative elections. The document addressed many of the opposition’s major grievances, paving the way for the ballot to be scheduled. However, the UFDG continued to threaten a boycott until just days before the voting, and its withdrawal from the vote-counting process now underscores the challenges that remain in moving political contestation from the streets to the new parliament.

Before Conde’s election to the presidency, the 155-member CNT—composed of representatives from the army, political parties and civil society—had fulfilled the role of a legislative body, voting on laws as well as drafting and adopting a new constitution. That changed after Conde came to power, however, as he governed mainly by presidential decree. Though the CNT was later allowed to examine laws, it nonetheless remained weak because it did not represent all political forces. The replacement of the CNT by an actual elected body represents an important change in the institutional arrangements of the country, one that should encourage the opposition to make demands through formal channels and to further develop the programmatic aspects of its political strategy.

Finally, several international aid agencies, in addition to the European Union, had conditioned future development assistance and debt relief to Guinea—amounting to more than $235 million—on the holding of free and fair legislative elections. Should the EU be satisfied that the conditions it set for the release of aid have been met, funds will be unlocked rapidly. 

The day of the vote also marked the fourth anniversary of the so-called stadium massacre, which claimed the lives of close to 160 Guineans who had gathered to protest against the candidacy of Capt. Dadis Camara, leader of the military junta that seized power in 2008, in the 2010 presidential elections. The presidential ballot, which was the first democratic election the country had experienced since its independence from France in 1958, was far from peaceful. Amid violent ethnic tensions and deadly protests, Conde won the November 2010 runoff, despite Diallo’s having finished well ahead during the first round of polling four months prior.

Since then, multiple street demonstrations and extensive demands of the sometimes-disruptive opposition have confirmed its thirst for attention and voice. Although the relatively high number of seats it won in the National Assembly would seem to provide the UFDG a proper channel to advocate for its claims and an adequate mechanism to ensure a political counterweight, an extended electoral impasse promises to deepen the political divide and aggravate preparations for the 2015 presidential ballot.

Complicating matters is the fact that Guinea inherited from the French a semi-presidential system in which the president takes more direct personal charge of state affairs, with the presidency and the legislature acting as two parallel structures. The president can in theory dissolve the parliament at any time and call for new legislative elections in the event of a disagreement. This considerably limits legislators’ ability to question the government’s initiatives in a forceful manner. So even if the Guinean opposition ultimately decides to take an official seat at the table of power, it would be one without much influence on Conde’s decision-making.

Nevertheless, a prolonged protest over the voting could further weaken the opposition’s standing, while putting the country’s transition at risk. Over the past three years, the opposition tactics of violent protests and endless contestations created unprecedented instability, while calling its credibility into question and blurring its vision on policy differences that could set it apart from the ruling party.

Despite a booming mining industry that has flourished over the past 20 years, poverty levels have remained extremely high in Guinea, the world’s top supplier of the aluminum ore bauxite. Once a legitimate parliament is in place, the frequent outbreaks of political violence that have kept investors away from multimillion-dollar mining projects should subside, promising some significant increases in the government’s disposable income.

In Guinea, restoring a constructive political dialogue to reduce the recourse to violence when disagreements occur between the different political factions is one of the most important challenges the new elected legislature must overcome. With celebrations of its 55th anniversary of independence underway, commemorations of Guinea’s shared past will hopefully help the country make headway toward a future of increased political inclusion.

By Guylain Gustave Moke
Political Analyst/Writer
Investigative Journalist
African Affairs Expert

Photo-Credit: AFP- Polling Station in Matoto-district-Conakry-Guinea