Guinea Pre-Election Technical Assessment, December 7-21 1997
With the presidential election in December 1998, Guinea will enter its second cycle of elections since the start of its transition to multi-party democracy in 1992. Previous elections on all levels have been characterized by poor organization and administration, manipulation of the process by government officials, extreme political polarization and confrontation leading to violence and wide-spread charges of electoral fraud.
The need to overcome these difficulties in an atmosphere characterized by continuing internal political confrontation, the presence of large numbers of refugees from civil conflicts in neighboring Sierra Leone and Liberia, and ever-decreasing voter participation rates puts Guinea at something of a political cross-roads.
According to the terms of the Guinean Loi Fondamentale, or constitution, passed in 1991, presidential election are to be held every five years. The first presidential elections in Guinea's transition to multi-party democracy was held on December 19, 1993. On January 4, 1994, the Supreme Court presented the official elections results in favor of General Lansana Conte, who was sworn in on January 29, 1994.
The Guinean Constitution states that the next election for president must be held at least 30 days before the end of President Conte's current term of office to allow for an orderly transition. Therefore, voting in the second presidential election must happen on or before December 3D, 1998. All three sets of elections that Guinea has organized since its transition (municipal, presidential and legislative) have thus far been held on a Sunday. While it is the president's responsibility to officially set and announce the exact date of the election, given the sequencing stated in the law, it appears likely that the next presidential poll will take place no later than the last Sunday in the month of December, which is December 27, 1998.
The Government of Guinea (GOG) has, through the conduct of the presidential election in 1993 and parliamentary and local elections in 1995, acquired adequate multiparty voting experience with which to implement procedurally correct elections. However, intensive training and technical assistance will continue to be needed at all levels of the administration to align divergent interpretations and applications of election regulations. Given improved systems, expanded training for all election actors, and to a lesser degree, commodities assistance, the GOG should be able to conduct free and fair elections.
Beyond these essential issues of systems and process, genuine democracy depends on an informed electorate. Guinea, however, still does not have an effective voter/civic education program to disseminate information about democracy and the elections process. Nor does there appear to be much governance experience among opposition leaders.
The real question for the future of multi-party democracy in Guinea concerns the extent to which the President and key appointees may be willing to risk their jobs by registering all possible voters, letting them vote freely, and honoring their choice of national leader. The International Foundation for Electoral Systems (IFES) team recommends that a program of sustained technical assistance and civic education be undertaken, and that the election process be continuously monitored.
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