Elections in doubt for 2008

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 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 Conakry told IRIN.

The surprise appointment of Prime Minister Soaré, ousting Lansana Kouyaté in May 2008, threw into question whether or not 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 that went into Soaré’s appointment, the ICG is dubious they 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 on 24 June. “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, who heads the CENI which was set up in November 2007 to plan elections alongside the ministry of interior, is more positive, “The political parties and the administration have signed a presidential decree that 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 2008.

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

There has been progress on 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.

Finding the money

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 has put in 26 percent of the funding while the EU has donated US$6.2 million; ECOWAS US$500,000 and France US$155,600 according to Condé, while Germany has promised funding.

“The Guinean government has spent more on sending the Guinean football team to the African Cup than on its own elections. Why should donors pay for it if they’re not willing to themselves?” One frustrated donor told IRIN, adding, “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.”

Making elections credible

Assuming the money does arrive, for Condé the biggest challenge is 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 told IRIN.

A small pot of money has been set aside to run a media campaign to encourage people to vote. And CENI plans to cooperate with international monitors to scrutinise the elections.

Ibrahima Touré, in charge of elections at the Interior ministry, assured IRIN: “We are doing everything we can to try to eliminate fraud and problems.” To do this the administration must reinforce its impartial role, according to Condé, but it is this very thing that the ICG is questioning, and Condé admits, “We are far from being in the position we want to be.”

Even if elections do go ahead many opposition parties will not participate, anticipates Mohamed Dianne, of the Rally for the Guinean People party.

But unless elections take place many Guineans will lose hope in changing the stagnant situation in which they find themselves today, Dianne stressed.

Fears of instability have been raised recently by protests in military camps in May and the detaining of the deputy chief of staff of the army, followed by protests from discontented police officers which resulted in several deaths and hundreds of injuries.

“Elections must be the focus,” said Dianne. “If they are transparent they will be the first elections to be that way. If we can’t change our system of government, we can’t change anything.”

Meanwhile donors are not raising their hopes. “When it comes to elections”, one who asked to remain unnamed told IRIN, “We’re in a wait and see mode.”