Guinea election chief proposes Oct. 31 vote date

AP News
Posted: Oct 26, 2010 2:18 PM
Guinea election chief proposes Oct. 31 vote date

The newly appointed head of Guinea's electoral commission on Tuesday proposed Oct. 31 for the country's much-delayed presidential run-off, but the leading candidate said he opposed the new date.

Electoral Commission President Gen. Siaka Toumani Sangare, who was appointed earlier this month, told the transitional government that he believed the vote could go ahead this upcoming Sunday. The election has been scheduled and abruptly canceled several times, including most recently this past weekend.

The vote was expected to be Guinea's first free and fair election since winning independence from France 52 years ago, but infighting between the candidates and rising ethnic tensions have cast a long shadow over the poll.

After the cancellation of last Sunday's vote, riots broke out in several provincial towns with violence largely aimed at the country's Peul community, the ethnicity of leading presidential candidate Cellou Dalein Diallo.

Diallo was quoted on two private radio stations Tuesday as saying that he did not approve of the Oct. 31 date. He pointed to election-related violence in the rural capitals of Siguiri and Kankan in Guinea's far north where Peul shops were burned.

In the capital of Conakry a well-known Peul human rights activist was badly beaten by security forces on Saturday after he attempted to help a group of youth that were being brutalized in the spasm of violence that followed the delay of the Oct. 24 vote, according to a report by U.S.-based Human Rights Watch.

The ethnic color of Guinea's election only came to the fore after the first round of voting in June in which 24 candidates squared off. Problems began when the field was narrowed to Diallo and Alpha Conde, who is from the Malinke ethnic group.

The Peul and the Malinke represent the two largest communities in Guinea and they have a history of animosity. Supporters have largely lined up behind the two candidates on ethnic lines, with the Peul almost unanimous in their support of Diallo and the Malinke overwhelmingly backing Conde.

Interim Prime Minister Jean-Marie Dore said he approved of the new date.

"We will go to the polls. I will ask Cellou Dalein Diallo and Alpha Conde to control their language, their supporters, their electorate. What counts is the unity of the Guinean nation," Dore said during the meeting of the transitional government. "We have confidence in Gen. Siaka Toumani ... we have no reason to doubt that all that could be done has been done so that the second round can occur on Oct. 31."

Isolated for decades because of its rogue rulers, Guinea turned a corner last December when the head of the military junta ruling the country was forced into exile and his No. 2 agreed to hand over power to civilians.

Experts and diplomats have warned that if the political candidates do not get their acts together and hold the election as planned, it could create an opportunity for another military coup.