, CONAKRY, Oct 13 – Guinea’s opposition on Monday called for a re-run of the weekend’s first-round presidential vote, condemning the ballot as fraudulent even before the results were in and pledging to take to the streets in protest.
Voters appeared to have turned out in massive numbers for Sunday’s ballot, which was only the second democratic presidential election in the west African country since independence in 1958.
“We cannot accept this ballot, we request it be annulled. We will not accept the results of this vote,” opposition leader Cellou Dalein Diallo said at a press conference also attended by the six other candidates challenging incumbent President Alpha Conde.
“We will not give in, we have the right to demonstrate, we will demonstrate.”
Despite clashes between Conde and Diallo supporters in the final days of the campaign that left a dozen people dead, voting was peaceful though the opposition complained about logistical problems.
Some polling stations opened late, others were short of envelopes. Some voters turned up without voter ID cards while others failed to be listed on the registers. Some registers were neither in alphabetical nor numerical order.
“It was a masquerade, a massive fraud throughout the day,” said Diallo.
UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon welcomed the peaceful vote and urged all sides to refrain from any action that could lead to violence ahead of the release of the official results, expected Tuesday at the earliest.
The European Union’s observer mission was to hold a press conference at 1000 GMT on the election.
Youth minister Moustapha Naite, the head of communications for Conde’s campaign, described the calls to annul the election as “bizarre and surprising” and asked for people to remain calm.
– ‘Stay calm’ –
While the other six candidates questioned the vote, none called for a protest, and the single woman running for election, Marie Madeleine Dioubate, urged her supporters to “stay calm, stay off the streets”.
Even before voting opened, opposition parties had warned of fraud and vote-rigging and accused the country’s Independent National Electoral Commission (CENI) of mismanaging the poll.
“No one wants the country to burn, no one wants citizens to clash, stones against stones, sticks against sticks, but the scene has been set… so that is where we end up,” said former prime minister Lansana Kouyate, who is standing in the poll.
Conde was elected five years ago to head the mineral-rich but impoverished nation after returning from three decades in exile to defeat Diallo, a former prime minister, who remains his closest rival.
The 77-year-old incumbent won the country’s first democratic elections in 2010, but they were tainted by violence and accusations of fraud, as were legislative polls three years later.
With no electricity in many polling stations, an AFP journalist watched votes being counted at a school in a Conakry suburb where the CENI had distributed a handful of torches.
Security forces kept an eye on the work, but local residents anxious about fraud also watched, relaying results to family and friends by telephone.
Fatoumata Kante said she had remained behind to monitor the count “to see that it is free and fair, because there are many people who don’t believe the authorities when they say that it’s free and transparent”.
– ‘This mess was organised’ –
Diallo’s Union of Democratic Forces of Guinea (UFDG) party complained the CENI breached the electoral code, saying “for instance in mid-afternoon it authorised voting without envelopes”.
One of three former premiers running for the presidency, Sidya Toure, slammed logistical problems, saying “all this mess was organised on purpose to lead to a declaration of results that in no way corresponds to the will of the people”.
On Sunday around midday, the head of the EU observer team Frank Engel was upbeat, saying the vote was “going well” despite delays that caused “a degree of annoyance” among voters.
“What we have seen, observed and what has been reported to us does not in my view mar the proper conduct of the vote,” Engel said at the time, while acknowledging that the CENI was “probably less ready than it thought it was”.
Conde campaigned on his track record of reforms to the army and judiciary and improved supply of hydroelectric power.
“After the Ebola epidemic, Guinea really needs to unite to get back to moving forward,” the president said, arguing that the outbreak, which claimed 2,500 lives in Guinea and thousands more in Liberia and Sierra Leone, had hindered development.
His foes have accused him of poor management, including the handling of the Ebola crisis, and said he wields too much power in isolation while stirring up tension among ethnic groups.