Voters lined up in Guinea’s capital Conakry yesterday to cast their ballots in a high-stakes presidential election, with the 82-year-old incumbent Alpha Conde bidding for a controversial third term.
The poll — the first in a string across West Africa — follows months of political unrest, where dozens of people have been killed during security crackdowns on mass anti-Conde protests.
In yesterday’s first round, Conde faces challenges from his old rival, the main opposition leader Cellou Dalein Diallo, and 10 other candidates.
There have been fears that recent tensions have taken on an ethnic dimension, with Conde accused of exploiting divisions during the campaign — a charge he denies.
Guinea’s politics are mainly drawn along ethnic lines: the president’s base is mostly from the ethnic Malinke community and Diallo’s from the Fulani people.
Police were out in force in Conakry, following clashes between rival supporters in recent days, but voting appeared calm.
Security Minister Albert Damantang Camara said there had been “no major incidents”, although his ministry said “hooligans” had attacked security forces in the capital.
At a news conference, Diallo urged his supporters to “show restraint”. “I have no doubts about the outcome of the election, which is why I do not want violence to disrupt the ballot and jeopardise my victory,” he said, adding that he thought Conde may nonetheless “cheat”.
Mamadou Alpha Barry, his finger stained with purple ink to show he had just voted, said it was “a very important, very special day”.
“We expect a lot of changes, especially for youth unemployment,” said the 37-year-old, who graduated from medical school in 2013 and is still seeking a job.
Mohamed Fode Camara, a social-affairs-ministry employee, said he “feared the day when results are announced”.
“God will save us, inshallah,” he said, adding that Guineans “want peace, not a fight”.Conde pushed through a new constitution in March, in defiance of mass protests, arguing that it would modernise the country.
But the move controversially allowed him to bypass a two-term limit for presidential terms.
After decades as an opposition activist, Conde became Guinea’s first democratically-elected president in 2010 and won again in 2015 but rights groups now accuse him of veering towards authoritarianism.
Diallo, 68, was formerly a prime minister under authoritarian leader Lansana Conte.
Conde and Diallo have faced off twice before in tense polls in 2010 and 2015, but this year’s are especially fraught.
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