Q&A: Guinea parliamentary elections

Child walks past campaign posters Image copyright AFP
Image caption The polls signify a return to civilian rule

The people of Guinea are due to go to the polls on 28 September to choose their first parliament since a coup in 2008.

Poll dates have been repeatedly scheduled and then postponed, largely due to allegations by opposition parties that the government was trying to rig the vote. The political atmosphere is charged with intense distrust between the government and opposition parties. After a series of negotiations failed to end the impasse, the UN stepped in and helped set a date.

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Lansana Conte led Guinea for 24 years

Guinea experienced a coup in 2008, hours after long-time President Lansana Conte died. Following the coup, the army dissolved parliament and it was not until February 2010 that a National Transitional Council was appointed to assume the role of the legislature and begin creating conditions for a return to civilian rule.

Presidential elections were held in 2010. President Alpha Conde won narrowly in what is sometimes regarded as Guinea's first genuine democratic exercise since independence from France in 1958. Despite complaints from the opposition, international observers declared them free and fair and Guinea seemed set on the path to democracy. But the parliamentary elections that were scheduled to follow six months later to seal Guinea's political transition never took place. The opposition threatened boycotts and led street protests that often turned violent.

Have the opposition grievances been resolved?

Opposition leaders remain suspicious that rigging might take place. Just days before the scheduled poll date they complained that the voters' roll had been manipulated to favour the president's party and have threatened further street protests.

They say the president's narrow victory was unfair and are keen to contest any issue in the electoral arrangements that they feel might work to the government's advantage.

Earlier suspicions over how a South African company was contracted to revise the voters' register had already contributed to delays in announcing a poll date. It was then agreed that the UN and La Francophonie - an international organisation promoting ties among French-speaking nations - would double-check the counting process.

The opposition also questioned the electoral commission's legitimacy. The commission has been revamped and now includes members from diverse ethnic communities - Guinea's political parties are divided along ethnic lines.

Concerns about voting in an insecure environment led to the creation of Fossel - a security force charged with securing the electoral process across the country.

How does the system work?

Voters will elect members of the National Assembly which has 114 members. It is elected for a five-year term.

Thirty-eight members will be elected in single-seat constituencies and 76 members by proportional representation.

Guineans abroad have now been allowed to vote. Their participation in the election was a key opposition demand.

How are the parties organised?

Most political parties in Guinea are organised along ethnic or regional grounds. Thirty-three have presented their lists for seats in parliament. They include the president's Rally for the Guinean People (RPG) and the Union of Democratic Forces of Guinea (UFDG) led by his main rival in 2010, Cellou Dalein Diallo.

Other leading parties are the National Party for Hope and Development (PEDN) led by Lansana Kouyate, the Union for the Progress of Guinea (UPG) led by Jean Marie Dore and the Union of Republican Forces (UFR) led by Sidya Toure.

Image copyright AFP
Image caption Cellou Dalein Diallo (R) and Sidya Toure acknowledge supporters during a demonstration against an earlier election date announced by Alpha Conde

What is at stake?

A lot hinges on the elections passing off peacefully and being accepted as credible. Not only are the multi-party polls being viewed as a symbol of a return to democracy, the president has said that the elections will help improve Guinea's image and international credibility.

The president also wants victory for his party as proof that he does indeed have popular support to implement his policies. With opposition participation in parliament, it is hoped that there will be a wider consensus in key decision-making.

What is behind the political violence?

There have been tensions between the country's two largest ethnic groups - the Peul and Malinke - and these came to a fore during the 2010 presidential election. President Alpha Conde is a Malinke, while Mr Diallo is a Peul. Many Peul feel they have been marginalised by successive governments - a member of their community has never been president.

The frequent protests over the past few years are often portrayed as political but with high unemployment and a stagnating economy, many young people join the rallies to complain about their hardships. According to government statistics, youth unemployment stands at 60%.

Outside the capital, the eruption of inter-community violence has been cyclical since 1991. In July, over 50 people were killed in the second largest city N'zerekore in the south-east of the country. The violence took on a religious element pitting Muslims against Christians. Here the presence of militiamen and the proliferation of arms is a feature of the spill-over effect of the civil wars in neighbouring countries - Sierra Leone, Liberia and Ivory Coast.

What about the crucial mining industry?

Guinea is a leading global producer of bauxite. The country also has iron, gold and diamond deposits which remain largely untapped. The mining industry has been hit hard as the frequent outbreaks of political violence keep investors away from multi-million dollar projects. The government has also cancelled mining contracts and factories have had to close, causing anger and bitterness among civilians.

Will there be foreign observers?

The European Union, the African Union, the UN and other international bodies will send observers to monitor the election.

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