Guineans vote in tense election as president seeks a third term

18 Oct 2020 / 10:08 H.

    By Saliou Samb

    CONAKRY, Oct 18 (Reuters) - Guineans go to the polls on Sunday as octogenarian President Alpha Conde seeks to extend his decade in power after pushing through a new constitution that allowed him to run for a third term, sparking months of violent protests.

    At least 50 people have been killed over the past year during demonstrations against the new constitution, Amnesty International said, and violence erupted repeatedly during campaigning in recent weeks.

    Conde, 82, who has described the constitutional reform approved in a referendum in March as fair and democratic, says he needs more time in power to finish major mining and infrastructure projects.

    "We have laid the foundations of development," he told supporters at his final campaign rally on Friday at a soccer stadium in the capital, Conakry.

    "Likewise, we are going to commit ourselves to the social conditions of Guineans."

    Guinea has made progress developing its mineral riches, including bauxite and iron ore, and gross domestic product has doubled under Conde's presidency. But many Guineans complain the mining boom has not ended frequent power cuts and unemployment.

    The West African country has been plagued by sporadic political unrest since independence from France in 1958, often fueled by ethnic tensions.

    But pro-democracy activists say Sunday's election - and a presidential vote due later this month in neighboring Ivory Coast - could deal a blow to democracy in a region that had previously won praise for its leaders' adherence to term limits.

    Ivorian President Alassane Ouattara is also seeking re-election after changing his country's constitution.

    Conde faces 11 challengers, including his long-time rival Cellou Dalein Diallo. Diallo, a former prime minister who finished runner-up to Conde in 2010 and 2015, has warned about fraud and vowed to challenge any irregularities.

    While no reliable opinion polls are available, many political analysts expect Conde to prevail after winning overwhelming approval for the new constitution in March's referendum - though the vote was boycotted by the opposition.

    The United Nations has warned about divisive appeals to ethnic affiliations on the campaign trail. Conde and Diallo both draw much of their support from their respective ethnic communities.

    Armed men attacked a military base in western Guinea late on Thursday and killed the camp's commander, but it was not clear if the assault was connected to the election.

    "The main issue in this election will be national unity," said Cheick Soumah, who works as an auditor in Conakry, when asked about his expectations for the vote. "The campaign has exacerbated the differences among Guineans."

    There are about 5.4 million registered voters and polling stations will be open from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. (0700-1800 GMT). (Writing by Aaron Ross; Editing by Helen Popper)

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