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Opposition slams delay to Guinea’s first free vote

Guinea’s opposition leaders on Tuesday slammed the electoral commission’s decision to postpone the West African country’s first free elections since independence over delays in their organisation.

”We know who is pulling the strings. It is the government which is losing its grip within the country. It is a political delay, not a technical one,” said Sydia Toure, head of the opposition Union of Republican Forces party (UFR).

A former prime minister, Toure accused the government of ”refusing to finance the [independent national electoral commission] Ceni and preventing it from doing its job properly”.

The electoral commission said on Monday that Guinea’s first free legislative elections since its 1958 independence would be postponed once again, this time from December to March 2009, at the earliest.

It gave as reasons difficulties in creating the structures to register voters and monitor the casting of ballots, as well as with the biometric methods to be used in voter registration.

”We regret the delay, which has been done on purpose, and we are fighting to ensure there is no new delay,” Toure said.

”The population has put its hope for a regime change in the elections,” but if there is another delay, ”it will lead to further despair and fresh protests,” he added.

President Lansana Conte (74) has ruled the nation with an iron fist since 1984 and has said he intends to rule until the end of his mandate in 2010.

Initially due to have taken place in June 2007, the vote was postponed to give time to rebuild local administrations after hostile demonstrations earlier that year killed 186 people and injured more than 1 200.

”We are ready for an election at any moment but not under any condition,” said Morou Balde, spokesperson of another opposition party, the Union for Progress and Renewal.

”Before, it was a case of people voting while carrying a Kalashnikov in one hand and a ballot in the other. Today we want elections which are democratic, transparent, accurate and ordered,” he said.

But the president’s ruling Party of Unity and Progress (PUP) played down the opposition’s fears, arguing the delay was understandable.

”People prefer a delay much more than having war straight away. If we do not have a clean electoral roll, we risk having things go wrong. Everyone agrees with that,” party secretary general Sekou Konate said.

The legislative vote can take place in March ”if [political] will exists”, he said, while ruling out coupling the legislative vote with local or presidential elections, scheduled to take place in 2009 and 2010, respectively.

”The main task is to allow Guineans to vote for who they want, and ensure the vote is accurate. If that does not happen, the country will erupt into violence,” Konate said. — Sapa-AFP

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