Guinea's Government, Opposition in All-Out War


With the Guinean government accused of electoral dark arts and the opposition of spoiling for a coup, the west African country's political factions are embroiled in a standoff that may require international arbitration.

Across the capital Conakry, supporters boast of victory for the nation's incumbent leader months before the presidential campaign has even begun, waving banners saying "Re-election of Alpha Conde in the First Round."

The opposition, convinced of having been robbed in previous polls and provoked by this triumphalism, angrily points out that no regional elections have been held in 10 years and accuses Conde of filling local administrations with unelected cronies who will help him rig October's presidential polls. 

"For the moment we are in the street, we are getting our activists out into the street and we will keep doing so as many times as is necessary," says former prime minister Sidya Toure.

Guinea's opposition is campaigning for a revision of an election timetable that they say stacks the odds in the regime's favor by delaying regional elections until after the presidential vote.

After protests in Conakry marked by deadly clashes between activists and security forces, the opposition's strategy is to get its supporters onto the streets throughout the country.

This would not have been possible a few months ago with Ebola ravaging the country, but recent months have seen a sharp decline in transmission and activists have been out in force in the provinces.

In a recent interview with the newspaper Le Monde in Paris, Conde accused his opponents of attempting to "create chaos, to have lots of deaths, to reach a serious crisis, and ultimately a military coup."

The head of state, elected in 2010, has vowed that local council officials -- whether his people or not -- will play "no role in the elections" in October.

Opposition leaders made a joint declaration on March 24 that Conde had lost "all legitimacy", prompting Foreign Minister Francois Lounceny Fall to denounce their alleged desire to "make the country ungovernable, and maybe push the army to intervene".

- 'Permanent tension' -

The opposition denies any impulse to go back to the days of autocracy, but its activists are quick to recall the 1984-2008 military regime of Lansana Conte as a means of reproaching Conde.

"I was General Lansana Conte's prime minister. I can assure you things were much better," says Toure, citing the economy, but also "better preserved public freedoms, ethnic and communal tensions that were 100 times lower".

He said people's dreams of the idyll of civilian rule after decades of authoritarianism and military coups had been shattered.

"This permanent tension, it's his culture," Toure said of Conde.

Opposition leader and former prime minister Cellou Dalein Diallo, beaten in 2010 presidential polls, believes political and ethnic divisions have widened under Conde, especially at the expense of his Fulani community.

In his part of Conakry, he says, officials installed by the regime to run the 2013 parliamentary elections removed voting slips carrying Fulani surnames, automatically assuming them to be opposition supporters.

Diallo complains that the opposition's struggle is misunderstood by an international community that does not appreciate "the whole process and the frustration that comes from this ruse used by Alpha Conde".

He told AFP he had agreed to visit Conde at the presidential palace on Friday for talks on the crisis, but the opposition vowed to push ahead with more protests over the coming days regardless of the outcome.

Peter Pham, director of the Africa program at the Atlantic Council think tank in Washington, said "the universal support that (Conde) had four years ago, I think, is no longer there."

"After Burkina Faso, after Nigeria, Washington and its European partners are increasingly taking a much more robust look at African democracy," he said.

As a result, Pham believes, the Guinea election process will be "more closely scrutinized than it would have been even a year, a year-and-a-half ago". 

"I think really what happens in the next six months depends on both sides, (on) who... is reading the international political winds correctly," he said.

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