Guineans ready, government not

As the International Crisis Group (ICG) questions the willingness of the Guinean government to hold elections in 2008 as planned, donors and opposition party members say it is not just political will but practical concerns such as a funding shortfall that put the elections into doubt.

“Conditions are not yet ready for elections in 2008—they are not ready at a technical level; the lists are not revised yet; there has been no census; and there’s not enough money in place yet,” an analyst based in the capital, Conakry, said.

The surprise appointment by President Lansana Conté of Prime Minister Ahmed Tidiane Soaré, ousting Lansana Kouyaté in May 2008, threw into question whether the president would go ahead with his decree to hold independent elections by the end of 2008, a precursor to presidential elections in 2010.

For many Guineans elections, which the government promised to hold in October and then December 2007 following widespread civilian protests over justice and governance issues, are the only ticket to political and economic stability.

The only clear democratic solution to Guinea’s current problems is a transparently elected body, said Chiekh Fantamady Condé, head of the Independent National Electoral Commission (Ceni).

But, given the lack of consultation in Soaré‘s appointment, the ICG is doubtful that elections will go ahead. Calming talk of inclusion and pursuit of change from the new head of government should fool no one, it wrote in a report released this week. Unless robust internal and external pressure is applied, there is every chance the government will break the promise of credible legislative elections in December 2008.

Putting off elections, the ICG fears, could “compromise economic revival and bury the independent commission of inquiry tasked with identifying and prosecuting authors of the 2007 crackdown”.

Condé is more positive.
“Political parties and the administration have signed a presidential decree saying elections will go ahead. I am convinced the objective for 2008 will be respected, barring an emergency.” He added: “We can’t wait for elections forever.”

According to Condé, Ceni and the interior ministry are registering voters around the country, working through 303 local authorities to update the electoral lists, which he predicts will be finished by August.

But the Conakry-based analyst told Irin there was not enough time left to complete these activities.

There has been progress at some levels. For the first time the elections will use a biometric system, which requires a photograph and fingerprint from voters. So far 977 of the required 1 000 biometric registration kits have arrived in the country and teams of people are being trained by the interior ministry in how to use them.

But a “significant funding gap” remains, according to one donor. And some donors, fed up with the government’s reluctance to put in adequate cash, are unwilling to bridge it. The Guinean government, said Condé, has put in 26% of the funding, while the European Union has donated $6,2-million, the Economic Community of West African States $500 000 and France $155 600. Germany has promised funding.

One frustrated donor told Irin: “The Guinean government has spent more on sending the Guinean football team to the Africa Cup than on its own elections. Why should donors pay for it if they’re not willing to themselves? It is not up to the international community to push elections—it has to come from within.”

Ceni’s Condé agrees. “To respect the sovereignty of this country we Guineans need to contribute money too.”

If the money does arrive, the biggest challenge, said Condé, will be getting people to vote and getting opposition parties to participate, by guaranteeing a credible election process.

“We need to motivate people to vote if these elections are going to have any credibility—many people have lost the will to vote because of fraud in past elections—we have to be able to guarantee they will be transparent,” Condé said.

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