Guinea politics. Better late than never

The second round of Guinea’s presidential election is to be delayed following a series of complaints by losing candidates. Donors are unlikely to be overly concerned about the hold-up—particularly if it allows the second round to proceed smoothly.

A run-off in Guinea’s presidential election is unlikely before end-July at the earliest, following a series of challenges by candidates. The second round of voting was provisionally due to be held on July 18th, but the Supreme Court has received complaints from almost all of the 24 candidates—although election observers expressed broad satisfaction with the poll, while conceding that there were irregularities “caused by logistical problems”.

The losing parties insist that they have evidence of rigging, but while there have been some protests against the first-round results, there have been no large-scale disturbances. The hope, therefore, is that there will be acceptance—possibly reluctant—of the Supreme Court’s ruling on the complaints, and that the second round will proceed only slightly belatedly, in July or August.

Unless the Supreme Court overturns the first-round results, the run-off will involve Cellou Dalein Diallo, who secured nearly 40% of votes in the first round, according to provisional results, and veteran opposition leader Alpha Condé. A former prime minister under Lansana Conté, Mr Diallo is a Peul (Guinea’s largest ethnic group, making up an estimated 40% of the population). His widespread Peulh support clearly helped him in the first round, although his failure to distance himself from Mr Conté’s government and allegations of corruption may not endear him to the broader electorate.

Mr Condé, meanwhile, is probably the single most prominent opposition figure, having opposed the three leaders of independent Guinea. He is of Malinké ethnicity and his power base is in the Kankan region (Malinké make up an estimated 30% of the population), although he is thought to have some cross-ethnic support. He contested the 1993 and 1998 presidential polls, winning 19% and 16% of the vote respectively, according to official figures released by the Conté government. The results were heavily disputed by his supporters.

In Guinean politics, the horse-trading leading up to the second round—with the third-placed candidate, Sidya Touré, likely to act as kingmaker—will involve ethnic and regional compromises on both sides, as the candidates are not likely to disagree markedly over ideology or policy. An outright victory in the second round should therefore generate a more inclusive government, albeit one that may find itself accountable to too many interests. The Economist Intelligence unit still believes this to be the most likely scenario given the good faith shown by the Guinean military, and particularly General Nouhou Thiam , who is heading a 16,000-strong special military force to safeguard the election.

Other outcomes are still possible, however. For example, protracted indecision could prompt formal military intervention. Despite the alliance of opposition figures during key periods, Lansana Conté practised a policy of “divide and rule” with opposition political parties throughout much of his presidency. As a result, there is some history of acrimony within the opposition, including between Mr Condé and Mr Touré. If losing candidates are unhappy with the pronouncements of the Supreme Court, significant portions of the electorate may be instructed by their parties to boycott the process. The longer a boycott lasts the more the army could feel tempted to seize power under the guise of restoring political stability and strong government. Although the interim president, General Sékouba Konaté, has intimated to all factions in the army that the military is an instrument of government, the army could decide to cast aside his warnings and intervene. This would almost certainly return Guinea to another period of internal misrule and regional and international isolation.

The Economist
Intelligence Unit

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