Guinea to elect parliament as tensions simmer
26 September 2013, 15:43
Conakry - Guineans will on Saturday vote in the first
parliamentary elections in the troubled west African nation in over a decade,
after months of delays and a campaign plagued by deadly unrest.
The election has been delayed numerous times since the
country's first-ever democratic poll in 2010, stoking deadly ethnic tensions
that have dogged Guinean politics since independence.
Five million voters will choose from some 1 700 candidates
vying for 114 seats in a national assembly which will replace the transitional
parliament that has been running the country since military rule came to an end
The vote was initially due to have been held within six
months of the swearing-in of President Alpha Conde in December of that year,
but has been delayed amid disputes over its organisation.
The opposition has accused the president's camp and the
electoral commission of conniving to rig Saturday's vote, and protests in the
capital Conakry have often descended into violence.
This week opposition protesters shot dead a trainee
policeman as renewed clashes broke out across the city, leaving more than 70
One of the poorest countries in the region despite vast
potential for mineral exploitation,Guinea was run by a succession of autocratic
rulers after gaining independence from France in 1958.
A military junta took control in December 2008 at the death
of President Lansana Conte, who seized power in a coup 24 years earlier. In
2010, civilian rule was ushered in after a transition period and an election
also marred by delays and violent ethnic clashes.
Power pits Fulani against Malinke
Politics in Guinea typically polarises some two dozen ethnic
groups who otherwise live in harmony alongside each other - with the Fulani the
largest at around 40% of the population followed by the Malinke and Soussou.
The country's iron-fisted first president Ahmed Sekou Toure
was a Malinke who ruled for 26 years until his death in 1984, denouncing the
economically dominant Fulani as hoarders of the country's wealth.
When Alpha Conde, also a Malinke, defeated Fulani opponent
Cellou Dalein Diallo in 2010, this once again deprived the country's biggest
and wealthiest ethnic group of political power again.
"These elections will take place in a context of
discord between the two main ethnic groups, the Fulani and Malinke, who have
been manipulated by political parties," said Aliou Barry, president of the
National Observatory of Democracy and Human Rights.
"The Fulani believe that since independence, they have
not had any power, unlike the other ethnic groups, the Malinke, the Soussou and
the Guerze. They feel the 2010 presidential election was stolen from
Conde's Rally of the Guinean People claims to espouse
socialism while its main opponents, the Union of Democratic Forces of Guinea
(UDFG) and the Union of Republican Forces (URF) have centrist, liberal
But in practice there is little to separate their
ideologies, say observers.
Guinea - already the world's largest producer of bauxite,
used to make aluminium - has many other untapped minerals, including diamonds,
gold and uranium.
It also lies above one of the planet's richest deposits of
undeveloped iron ore, signed away by Conte on his death bed for a tiny
percentage of its multi-billion-dollar value amid allegations of corruption in
a deal reportedly being investigated by the FBI.
As a result, it remains one of the region's poorest nations,
with stagnating economy and inflation at 13%, youth unemployment estimated at
60 percent and 178th out of 187 countries on the UN's Human Development Index.
Conde's programme of military cost-cutting, agreed with the
IMF to rein in the country's debt, has fuelled further tension, with local and
international media reporting that officers opposing the cuts have been
A Guinean minister said on Wednesday the country was
"in danger" from outsiders plotting against it amid media reports
that a coup was being planned in the capital Conakry.
Security Minister Madifing Diane made the comments in
response to a story in Paris-based weekly Le Canard Enchaine which said it had
seen French and American secret service documents "announcing a coup in