CONAKRY, Guinea (AP) — Guinea's president unilaterally decreed Wednesday the start of campaigning for a contested legislative election, which has been repeatedly delayed due to opposition complaints. The surprise move is bound to further heighten tensions between the ruling party and the country's increasingly united opposition.
In the decree read on national television on the evening news, President Alpha Conde announced that campaigning will begin at midnight and would end at the same time on June 28. The move hass taken the nation by surprise, and comes as the country's opposition leaders on Wednesday led a motorized funeral procession to put to rest six of the 12 opposition members who were killed during last week's protest against the planned poll.
Not a single opposition party has submitted the necessary paperwork to compete in the proposed June 30 election. Unless a deal is struck to again delay the vote, it means that only candidates affiliated with the ruling party will compete in the ballot, despite the fact that dozens of opposition members have been killed in demonstrations over the upcoming vote.
Disagreement over the poll dates back to at least 2010, when Guinea held what is considered the country's first democratic presidential election in its history. Although deemed transparent by international observers, the vote was both preceded and followed by numerous violent protests pitting the country's two largest ethnic groups — the Peul and the Malinke. Among the opposition's many complaints is that the voter list was changed after the 2010 election. They also take issue with the South African company chosen to revise the voter roll, saying that Waymark's software can be used to rig the vote, an accusation the company denies.
The legislative election is meant to complete Guinea's transition to civilian rule, which began in late 2009, when military strongman Capt. Moussa "Dadis" Camara was shot in the head by his rival in the junta which was then ruling the country, forcing him to leave the country for emergency medical treatment. In his absence, the junta's No. 2 seized the opportunity to arrange for the country's much-tarnished military to step aside and allow democratic elections to unfold.
Guinea has been without a functioning legislature for years, and its economy is at a standstill, with spasms of violence gripping the capital every few weeks. Guinea remains among the world's poorest nations, despite being the planet's largest exporter of bauxite, the metal used to make aluminum.
Associated Press Writer Rukmini Callimachi contributed to this report from Dakar, Senegal.