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European Union calls for 'fair and free' presidential election in Guinea

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Voters in Guinea will go to the polls on Sunday to a highly controversial presidential election, an event being watched with growing concern by the EU and the international community.

This is partly due to the street demos and violence that followed legislative elections in March.

Guinea, a west African country with a population of just over 12 million, has rich deposits of diamonds and gold. But while it may be resource rich it remains one of the poorest countries in Africa.

At the heart of the controversy is 82-year-old incumbent Alpha Conde’s quest to undo term limits that would have him step down from the presidency in October, after 10 years in office, enabling Guinea’s first-ever democratic succession. Under the new Constitution, Condé would be eligible to stay in office for 12 more years.

Since his initial election in 2010, Condé has taken a sharp turn towards authoritarianism and has seen his reputation  tarnished by a number of corruption scandals.

Crucially, there will be no EU observer team attending Sunday's election. These are normally sent to ensure that elections are free, fair and not fraudulent but a European Commission spokesman told this website the EU has not been invited by the Guinean authorities to deploy an observation mission.

In light of this there are growing calls for the EU to be far more vocal in calling for a “fair and free” election and to respond to any electoral violations with sanctions similar to those it recently imposed on the regime in Belarus.

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Nabila Massrali, EU spokesperson for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, said: “As the October 18 election deadline approaches, the EU shares the concerns already expressed by regional and international actors about the conditions under which it is preparing.”

She said the EU “deplored” the violence and clashes in March “which left several victims” and called on the authorities to “conduct independent and in-depth investigations in order to prosecute the perpetrators”.

She added: “The EU calls for respect for public freedoms, including the right of every citizen to demonstrate peacefully, within the framework provided by law, without being worried, and to express political opinions without being arrested or imprisoned.”

Following the validation of the candidatures by the Constitutional Court on September 9, she said it is now imperative that the competent Guinean authorities and institutions guarantee an "impartial, transparent, inclusive and fair" electoral process, "winning the support of citizens and ensuring a ballot for the results. credible and accepted by all”.

“It is important to avoid violence and a deterioration of the situation before, during and after the election.”

In this context, she said the EU “reaffirms its full support for all initiatives” of ECOWAS, the African Union, the United Nations and the International Organization of La Francophonie aimed at “defusing tensions and restoring a dialogue between the parties in with a view to strengthening the electoral framework.”

“The EU therefore calls on the entire political class and civil society, as well as the administrations concerned, to engage in a constructive and peaceful manner in order to ensure that this electoral process is consensual and transparent and participates in the long term in the reconciliation between all Guineans.

“In particular, it encourages the authorities to take initiatives to help calm the political climate.”

She noted: “In this regard, measures such as the resolution of the dispute over the local elections of February 2018 and the release of all detained opponents would be likely to create a climate favorable to dialogue.”

Similar sentiments were voiced by Willy Fautre, director of Human Rights Without Frontiers, a leading Brussels-based rights NGO, who told this website that the election is "intrinsically rigged".

He added: "The current president should not be allowed to run because the number of mandates is limited to two and it will be its third bid. What should the EU do in such a case? Well, the High Representative Josep Borrell does not condemn this situation.”

Fautre says the EU should closely collaborate with ECOWAS, the African Union, the United Nations and the United Nations to Conakry to ensure that the vote is “credible, transparent, inclusive and violence-free.”

He added: “In case the election is rigged, Brussels should not hesitate to reject the results if it wants to remain a beacon of democracy and human rights in the eyes of the Guinean people and the Africans in general.”

He went on: “After the election, the EU should invest its energy to prosecute those who were responsible for the violence that accompanied the elections in March and for the killings. The EU needs to strengthen its ties with Guinea which is a young and dynamic country. One day, its youth will come to power and the EU will then be remembered as an effective defender of democracy and human rights in their country.”

Fautre aded: “Political instability and violence in Guinea has made this country one of the major sources of migration from Africa in Europe. By fighting for fair elections, democracy, human rights and economic development, the EU will contribute to slow down the flow of migrants from this country.”

A legacy of a long period of misgovernance has left Guinea one of the poorest countries in Africa and Condé, Guinea’s first democratically elected leader, appears to be intent on staying in office past his second term while governing in an increasingly authoritarian manner. These actions have disappointed citizens who had hoped the country would move away from its authoritarian past.

Guinea is, once again, is at a crossroads with the democratic rebirth promised by Conde a decade ago seemingly far out of reach A particularly strong shock to the system was the  removal of the head of Guinea’s Constitutional Court, Kelefa Sall, a vocal critic of the president, in March 2018. Seven months later, the Minister of Justice  stepped down in protest of the move, leaving a vacuum Conde was only too happy to exploit for his own benefit.

Tensions over constitutional reform have only heightened since then, and the constitutional referendum in March did little to assuage Guinean fears, with less than  one third of the population turning out amid an opposition boycott. At least 32 protesters were killed by police in the run-up to the polls. Deeming that the electoral process fell below the standards for a credible vote, international electoral observers did not participate.

Following the referendum, key international stakeholders, including the EU, ECOWAS, the UN Office in West Africa and the Sahel (UNOWAS), the United States and France all expressed serious concerns over the process’ credibility and inclusiveness.

The opposition movement has given rise to the National Front for the Defence of the Constitution (FNDC), an umbrella group of political parties, labour unions and civic groups campaigning against Conde’s constitutional coup.

At least 32 protesters were killed by police in the run-up to the polls. Deeming that the electoral process fell below the standards for a credible vote, international electoral observers did not participate.

Resetting the term-limit clock and increasing the power of the presidency goes against the wishes of the Guinean population, 82 percent of whom told Afrobarometer that they favour a two-term limit.

Conde, though, now faces an unexpectedly strong challenge in the shape of the country’s former prime minister, Cellou Dalein Diallo.

On the eve of the election Diallo spoke exclusively to this website, saying: “With the unprecedented mobilization of Guinean youth who are determined to ensure a flawless ballot and strict compliance with its outcome, Alpha Conde will commit a very serious fault by abusing the Guineans in their choice, as in 2010 and 2015.”

Diallo, seen as a potent challenger, added: “The aggression  and violence many fear he is about to use can only spill the blood of Guineans who will not allow themselves to be intimidated. Guinea is rich in diversity and the legitimate aspiration of its people is to freely choose its leaders without having to shed blood or sacrifice the lives of young people.

“The international community should anticipate and help Guinea to avoid this mess.”

After two terms of the strongman in power, Guinea has fallen to a lowly 174 out of 189 countries in the Human Development Index. Many fear that if Conde is allowed a third stint at Guinea’s helm, the impoverished African nation is only likely to sink even lower.

Such fears are echoed by Alix Boucher,  of the Africa Centre for Strategic Studies, who said: “The country is now at a crossroads with competing visions for the future. By orchestrating the adoption of a new constitution, Condé evidently wishes to consolidate power within the office of the presidency."

He wants the EU and other human rights defenders  to urge Condé’s government to allow free and fair elections and refrain from cracking down on protesters and the opposition.

Elsewhere, an editorial by European Views, an EU-focused news platform, noted that the “dubious legality” of the referendum earlier this year prompted only a  “lukewarm” rebuke from the EU.

Within just a few days of announcing his candidacy, Diallo had won the vociferous support of thousands of his countrymen but Amnesty International also found evidence of “intimidatory tactics” being used by Condé’s camp.

Conde has, noted the charity, closed borders with both Guinea-Bissau and Senegal in an attempt to disefranchize the high number of Diallo-supporting expatriates in both countries, seized Diallo’s campaign materials and apparently interfered with the electoral roll itself.

Many argue that, in the face of such skullduggery, it is vital that external powers do more than just express the “deep regrets” conveyed by the EU when Condé first attempted to bend the constitution to his will.

European Views says: “Given that President Trump has apparently abdicated the USA’s mantle of global leadership, it’s now more important than ever that the EU stands up for democracy around the world.

“The results of what happens when it is trampled underfoot are currently playing out in Belarus; a similarly rigged election, followed by a brutal clampdown on peaceful protests, could be on the cards in Guinea too.

“The time to prevent such a nightmare scenario from repeating itself on African soil is now: the EU, Guinea’s  most important trade partner, must act decisively and expeditiously if it is to avoid Guinea becoming another Belarus in just a few weeks’ time.”

Coincidentally, the European Parliament is this week marking Africa Week where the focus is on "all things Africa".

While it is usually under the EU radar, events in the Guinea in the next few days will be very much under the spotlight in Brussels and other capitals.

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EU Reporter publishes articles from a variety of outside sources which express a wide range of viewpoints. The positions taken in these articles are not necessarily those of EU Reporter.

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