Guinea’s Other Emergency: Organising Elections
Africa Briefing N°106
15 Dec 2014
Guinea is due to hold presidential elections in 2015. The country’s electoral history, the failure of dialogue between the government and the opposition and the indefinite postponement of local elections originally scheduled for early 2014 are all bad omens. With a divided political scene split along ethnic lines, and in the grip of an Ebola epidemic that has weakened Guinea’s economy, the government has two options. It can either promote dialogue and establish a credible framework for the second free presidential election in the country’s history, a framework that could include a negotiated postponement; or run the risk of instability and inter-ethnic violence. Given its control of institutions and the political timetable, it must work with the opposition and international partners to build minimum consensus on electoral arrangements in order to reduce the risk of violent protests in the lead up to, during or after the vote.
Such a consensus must be stronger than the one reached for the September 2013 legislative elections, held after a delay of almost three years. Those polls were preceded by fierce controversy and violent demonstrations. Although the conduct of the vote was peaceful, the opposition accused the government of fraud and called for the elections to be annulled. Many foreign observers questioned the integrity of the polls. The government managed to contain tensions only because the opposition felt that legislative elections were of secondary importance, and because international partners mediated between the two sides.
The forthcoming polls present a very different challenge. First, more is at stake in a presidential vote, given the power Guinea’s political system vests in the executive. Secondly, the government has already indicated its resistance to significant international involvement. Also, the legislative elections confirmed the ethnic dimension of voting patterns. The country’s two main groups, the Fulani and the Malinké, are split, with the former mostly lined up behind the main opposition party, Cellou Dalein Diallo’s Union of Democratic Forces of Guinea (UFDG) and the latter mostly behind President Alpha Condé’s Rally of the People of Guinea (RPG) Rainbow.
Electoral regulations and institutions, including the timetable, remain flawed. The date of the presidential election has not yet been set. Despite -- or because of -- the makeshift arrangements of recent years, the regulatory framework is incoherent. Even where clear rules exist, they are often not enforced. The country lacks key institutions, such as a Constitutional Court. The government-opposition dialogue initiated in July 2014 to clarify the legal framework quickly collapsed, as the parties failed to settle on a written record of the verbal deals reached during the discussions.
Although the risk of intervention by the army is lower than in the past, political tensions are a grave concern. The opposition, which refrained from organising demonstrations for a time, officially because of the Ebola epidemic, announced in November 2014 that it was preparing for renewed action. Controversy over the elections fuels ethnic divisions, slows economic development and hampers government attempts to mobilise the public in the fight against Ebola. There is still time to build minimum consensus on electoral arrangements, but it will require the following steps:
Dakar/Brussels, 15 December 2014
- President Condé should invite the government and opposition to engage in a new round of talks on electoral arrangements. Both parties should prepare for this dialogue by drafting precise, comprehensive and realistic measures. A senior political figure from the president’s office should participate.
- The parties should agree on a realistic electoral timetable. They should not rule out the option of postponing the presidential vote if this would genuinely improve its quality. Considering the importance of the local authorities in the organisation of elections, their controversial replacement by government-appointed administrators and the need to promote trust, local elections should be held a minimum of three months and a maximum of six months before the presidential polls, so as to provide ample time for elected representatives to start working.
- The Independent National Electoral Commission should be entirely reshuffled so as to fully recognise its political character. The new commissioners should be appointed solely and in equal numbers by the presidential coalition and the opposition, and decisions should be made by consensus.
- The president should take the decrees to promulgate the organic laws creating the National Human Rights Institution and the Constitutional Court as voted by the National Transition Council. Practical measures, including budgetary, should be taken so that these institutions can begin operating quickly.
- The government, with the opposition’s support, should ask the UN to send a needs assessment mission to assess electoral arrangements.
- The government should invite credible long-term international electoral observation missions from the European Union and the African Union to monitor the presidential election and, though this is less common, the local elections, at least in Conakry, Moyenne Guinée and the Nzérékoré region.