Guineans are hopeful that the 5 September resignation of the electoral commission president - one of the opposition’s principal demands - will break a political impasse and move the country to a long-overdue parliamentary election.
Electoral commission head Lousény Camara, seen as an ally of President Alpha Condé, said in a statement that he was stepping down “in the superior interest of the nation” so that the electoral process can move forward.
Opposition groups have repeatedly accused Condé’s government of planning to rig the vote that was supposed to be held within six months of the 2010 presidential elections.
Since the presidential poll, Guinea has been stuck between a chaotic past and aspirations for a stable democracy. The absence of an elected parliament has not only held up donor funds but fuelled ethnic tensions and threatened to reverse hard-won gains, observers say.
“It seems that all political discourse these days comes down to arguments over when the legislative election will finally be held, or who's going to try to rig the legislative election,” UN Resident/Humanitarian Coordinator Anthony Ohemeng-Boamah told IRIN. “The country needs to move past that, return to normalcy and focus energies on improving the lives of Guineans.”
A military junta seized power in 2008 after the death of Lansana Conté who had ruled Guinea for 24 years. Autocratic leaders and military regimes have been at the helm of the West African country since independence in 1958. The 2010 polls brought hopes for stable and democratic governance.
Although President Condé’s victory was contested, Guineans - even those who insist his opponent, Cellou Dalein Diallo, won - said they accepted him so that the country could move on. But the failure to hold legislative elections has stirred up mistrust and tensions.
Dropping the ball
Guinea formed a transitional parliament in early 2010 - the Conseil National de la Transition (CNT) - whose members are not elected; the body had a temporary mandate until legislative elections are held. CNT president Hadja Rabiatou Serah Diallo says Guinea’s political parties and the rest of civil society dropped the ball after the presidential election.
“During the transition, political parties, unions, civil society, women - everyone was unified and we spoke with one voice,” Diallo told IRIN. “Then, after the presidential election, because of party and individual interests, everyone went off in his own direction, and we all forgot… We all forgot too quickly that we needed to remain united for the interest of the nation. We thought we could say `mission accomplished’ but the transition was not yet complete.”
“It’s the poorest Guineans who carry the heaviest burden of having no parliament. The lack of development, relentless poverty - it’s the poorest who pay,” Diallo added.
Despite having some of the world’s largest bauxite reserves as well as gold, iron ore and diamonds, most Guineans struggle to get by. The European Union resumed cooperation with Guinea after the formation of a civilian government in 2010, but it has withheld much of the 174.3 euros (US$219.2 million) it had offered pending legislative elections.
“Everyone agrees this transition period has dragged on for too long,” says Ousmane Sylla, Guinea’s ambassador in Brussels. In mid-August he appealed to Guinea’s political parties to put aside what he calls “minor quarrels” and proceed with elections.
“A parliament is not a necessity just in terms of satisfying donors - it’s a necessity for the Guinean people,” Sylla told IRIN. “It’s extremely important that the people will finally be able to say `we have elected our representatives who are tuned in to our daily challenges’. Once we finish these elections, I assure you, Guinea will see greater national unity and social calm and that will facilitate development.”
Guineans hope that holding parliamentary polls will ease the current tensions.
“Holding the legislative election will allow us to finish with this political turmoil and all the street demonstrations that end up in deaths and injuries and that hurt business,” vendor Aissata Sylla told IRIN. “To be able to make a living, we need peace.”
But only a fair and transparent election will bring stability, said a Conakry resident who identified himself as Perrussot. “We are not against Condé - we don’t want to block him from doing his job. We simply want a democracy based on truth. We want a parliamentary system where everyone has a voice.”