World Guineans elect president in test vote for democracy
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Guineans cast ballots for a president Sunday, with the 82-year-old incumbent bidding for a third term despite mass protests against the move and concerns about democratic backsliding.
Canvassing in the West African state ends Friday at midnight, capping a tense political campaign marked by insults traded between President Alpha Conde and his leading rival Cellou Dalein Diallo.
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Experts and state officials say to prepare for the reality that the country may not know who won the presidency on Election Day — or for several days (or weeks) after.Long lines due to expected record voter turnout amid a global pandemic. Ongoing concerns about online misinformation. Hundreds of lawsuits over voting. Poll workers facing changing election rules. An incumbent president who won’t guarantee a peaceful transfer of power.
The poll on Sunday also follows months of political unrest in Guinea, where mass protests against a Conde third term, from October last year, have left dozens of people dead in a security-forces crackdown.
Conde pushed through a new constitution in March, arguing that it would modernise the country. But the move also controversially allowed him to bypass a two-term limit for presidents.
After decades as an opposition activist, Conde became Guinea's first democratically-elected president in 2010 and won re-election in 2015.
Rights groups have become increasingly critical of the president, however, accusing him of veering towards authoritarianism.
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Diallo, 68, now Guinea's leading opposition politician, was formerly a prime minister under authoritarian leader Lansana Conte.
Sporadic clashes between their supporters have broken out across Guinea in recent days, sparking fears of further violence on polling day.
Kabinet Fofana, a Guinean political scientist, cast the election as a battle between Conde promoting his record in office, and his opponent arguing for change after a decade of his rule.
"This election will play out for Alpha Conde on (his ability) to promote his public policies," Fofana said.
- 'Only promises' -
But Conde's advanced age will weigh on voters' minds, according to Fofana.
Diallo raised the issue several times during the campaign, even encouraging Conde to "retire with dignity".
The sharpy-dressed president has brushed off the gibes, however, and conducted a vigorous helicopter tour of the country.
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Known as being quick to anger, Conde spent decades as an opposition activist, and was even sentenced to death in absentia by a former autocrat, before finally ascending to power in 2010.
He beat Diallo to the presidency then, and pulled off the feat again when he was re-elected in 2015.
Among other things, Conde promised to boost the economy of the nation of some 13 million people and to increase Guinea's lamentable electricity access.
He has stuck to a similar script during this year's campaign, pledging to make Guinea "Africa's second (economic) power after Nigeria".
But Guineans interviewed by AFP expressed deep frustrations about the state of the country, regardless of their political colours.
The former French colony is rich in minerals such as bauxite, iron and gold, and has abundant fresh-water resources. However it remains one of the poorest countries in the world.
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"In 10 years, Alpha Conde has done nothing," said Aminata Barry, a 36-year-old opposition supporter.
She added that he had made "only promises".
Conde nonetheless retains a bedrock of supporters who hail his efforts at economic revival. He drew huge crowds on the campaign trail, where he dismissed his many critics.
Diallo -- a self-described technocrat -- has pointed to Conde's "catastrophic record" and took to pointing at his watch while campaigning, symbolising that the octogenarian's time has run out.
"He no longer has the physical and intellectual capacity to carry out this demanding function," the opposition leader recently told French broadcasters.
- Democratic backsliding -
Guinea's poll on Sunday is due to resonate outside its borders.
The vote is the first in a string of elections scheduled across West Africa, including in Ivory Coast, Burkina Faso, Ghana and Niger.
Some of the major issues in these elections bear a striking semblance to the political debate in Guinea.
In Ivory Coast, for example, incumbent President Alassane Ouattara is running for a third presidential term after having revised the country's constitution. The October 31 vote will also take place in a highly tense atmosphere.
Activists are concerned that a win for Conde in Guinea would bode ill for democratic norms in the region.
Some 5.4 million registered voters in Guinea are due to cast their ballots on Sunday, and initial results are expected to be announced several days afterwards.
A second round is scheduled for November 24.
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