After decades of dictatorship and military rule, Guinea is on the verge of becoming a true democracy. The last remaining hurdles on its path to legitimate elections are corrections that must be made to the electoral system before the presidential runoff.
Elizabeth Cote, IFES chief of party in Guinea, has observed the country’s democratic development over the past 10 years. In this interview, she gives us a glimpse into the state of Guinea at the moment and where the election management bodies currently stand.
IFES: The date for the runoff keeps changing. What is going on?
EC: According to the electoral code, the runoff was supposed to take place two weeks after the official results of the election were issued. The official results were announced on July 22. But the runoff has been delayed since then because of the need to make extensive readjustment and improvements to the election system.
IFES: Legally speaking, is there anything in Guinea’s Constitution or Electoral Code that demands the runoff take place before a certain date?
EC: Not really. As I have already said, the law says a runoff has to take place two weeks after the official results are announced, but that’s the only specification the law makes. Keep in mind that we are working with a very fuzzy legal framework for this election. There is a revised electoral code with several incoherencies , another revised code that is not official as it has not been published in the official gazette. The same is the case with the Constitution. It has been revised and It is still unclear whether the published version is the correct one. Guineans are working with what they have and around what they don’t have.
IFES: What changes are being made to the elections process?
EC: There were 24 points identified by the two winning candidates and an inter-institutional ad hoc commission that needed to be fixed before the second round of the election. Most of them relate to polling station delimitation, results transmission and tabulation and the training of poll workers. During the first round, the polling station delimitation was done virtually using computerized data. It turned out that some people had to walk 35-45 kilometers to be able to vote. This problem has now been fixed, but it took far longer than expected as election officials and candidate representatives had to travel throughout the country and reach a consensus on each and every case. This is good news for Guinea’s democratic development, but it does result in some delays. Also, there have been a number of unfortunate incidents such as the fire that broke out in the election commission’s warehouse and political campaign violence which led to the suspension by the PM of public campaign events.
IFES: What else has caused the delays?
EC: Another issue that hasn’t helped has been the ongoing leadership crisis within the CENI. Following months of illness, former president Ben Sékou Sylla passed away last week leaving an EMB divided to the core. It has a hard time holding plenary sessions during which important decisions need to be signed off. His newly elected successor's legitimacy is already being contested as being partisan for one of the candidates.
IFES: Where do things stand now?
EC: Electoral materials are currently being delivered and although roads are very bad at this time of year, everything should arrive on time. The lists of polling stations will be posted for a number of days so citizens know where they can vote and remaining voter cards distributed. Everything is ready for the training by IFES of the 50,000 poll workers and members of the results centralization commissions scheduled for the week prior to the runoff.
IFES: Any worries?
EC: Increased polarization within the Guinean society is worrisome. There are numerous reports of ethnic disputes across the board and everyone agrees that this is the first time in Guinea’s history that the Nation is so deeply divided. Both sides are 100% certain their candidate will win. The challenge is to make sure there are the least possible causes for post electoral disputes so that by the end of the day Guineans will accept the winner and rally behind him to build a new prosperous and democratic Guinea.
IFES: With every headline of another delay in the runoff, the question of whether Guinea is sliding back comes up. What are your thoughts on this matter?
EC: Fortunately, the Head of the transition interim President Sékouba Konaté has a handle on things. He made it clear during his most recent meeting with all the stakeholders that once the new date is announced he will not accept another delay. He reiterated that the army is now ready to serve a new democratic rule, if the civilians are able to hold their end of the bargain. In the long term, Guinea is not at all sliding back. All of this is a process.
You also have to keep in mind that we are arriving at the end of an era and witnessing the beginning of a new one. And I don’t mean just the most recent military era, I mean since independence. There hasn’t been a real election in Guinea since then. It makes sense that getting it right is taking a little more time. And of course this change cannot occur without resistance by those who have a lot to lose with the introduction of rule of law.
IFES: Thank you, Elizabeth.