Parties divided over Guinea electoral commission

AP News
Posted: Oct 15, 2010 1:11 PM
Parties divided over Guinea electoral commission

Growing discord over the makeup of Guinea's electoral commission is dividing the country and threatening to cause yet another delay of the presidential runoff that could choose the country's first democratically elected leader.

On Friday, the electoral commission announced it was adding a second interim president, Foumba Kouroumah, in an effort to address concerns about the neutrality of the commission's current president. One of the candidates has accused him of being a militant supporter of the opponent.

The disagreements over the commission have become the last sticking point ahead of the Oct. 24 presidential runoff that already has been postponed multiple times, plunging the country into crisis.

Experts fear that if the election is delayed again, the process could be hijacked by a coup in the West African nation, whose last two leaders came to power through force.

The National Council of the Organizations of Civil Society had released a statement late Thursday asking that the troubled commission be dissolved and replaced with new members.

While the election's first round in June was viewed as largely fair, problems started when the field of 24 candidates was narrowed down to the top two, who happen to be from the country's two largest ethnic groups.

The contest has since taken on ethnic tones with the Peul, the nation's largest ethnic group, supporting Peul candidate Cellou Dalein Diallo while Malinke voters are backing Malinke candidate Alpha Conde.

The disagreement over the composition of the election commission is largely ethnic. In September, the president of the commission died after being evacuated to Paris for treatment. The man chosen to replace him is Toma, a minority ethnic group with close ties to the Malinke.

Diallo's party has accused the commission president, Lounceny Camara, of being biased toward Conde. He has asked for the new chief to be removed saying that if he isn't, his party will boycott the election. Meanwhile Alpha Conde's party, the Rally of the Guinean People, or RPG, says that if the head of the commission is replaced, the RPG will boycott the vote.

"The ethnic question has infiltrated every fiber of the election commission. And that has cost the commission a lot," said Mohamed Soumah, an NGO worker and political commentator. "If we don't watch out, it could compromise the entire election."

Meanwhile, the commission's workers showed up at the office to demand their unpaid salaries, saying they refuse to staff the Oct. 24 vote if their back wages are not paid.

The multiple delays in Guinea's election have cast a pall over the country of 10 million which seemed to have turned a corner earlier this year when the military junta ruling the nation agreed to step aside and allow a transition to civilian rule.

The poll could still be the country's first free and fair vote since winning independence from France 52 years ago.