Guinea: the hard road to credible and transparent elections
It is now more than two weeks since the people of Guinea went to the polls to elect a new parliament and still there are no official results. The United Nations has expressed its concern, along with other African and international organisations, about the delay. Preliminary counting is showing that no single party is likely to have an outright majority and the opposition have already challenged these results.
This delay will only increase the scepticism about what the results will bring. The potential for violence cannot be underestimated. In the three years since the country’s first democratically elected president Alpha Condé took office, there have been more than 100 deaths because of political violence and ethnic clashes, and the proposed legislative elections had to be postponed several times.
At issue was the close 2010 presidential election when Condé beat his opponent Cellou Dalein Diallo by a narrow margin raising concerns over the composition and efficiency of the Independent National Electoral Commission and the revision of the voter register.
In any election the voter roll plays an important part because it identifies who has the right to vote. When votes are rigged it is often through manipulation of the names on a voter registration list – that is why revising a voter register can become politically sensitive.
Local civil society groups – including l’Association Guinéenne de Transparence, Transparency International’s local chapter in Guinea – expressed concern over the government’s decision in 2013 to unilaterally select Waymark, a South African company, to handle the voter register without a bidding process. Opposition activists warned that Waymark would collude with the electoral commission to rig the vote.
Making a fresh start
Since winning independence from France in 1958, Guinea has struggled through two dictatorships, and a military coup. Endemic corruption and weak governance contributed to turning the country into a hotspot for cocaine smugglers. Poor management of the country’s vast natural resources has exacerbated frustration over the unequal distribution of wealth and persistent poverty.
Daily life is still a struggle for many Guineans, who suffer frequent electricity cuts and limited access to water supplies. But things are changing: a recent national corruption survey showed that 98 per cent of Guineans are aware that corruption is widespread and that it should be combated.
In August, angry youth in Kankan challenged President Condé to do more to improve governance and service delivery at the local level. Across the country, citizens are demanding a voice, not politics and violence as usual.
Supporting electoral integrity in West Africa
In Sierra Leone, the Transparency International chapter there has been monitoring national and local elections for several years. In 2012, it observed the voter registration process ahead of the presidential elections, and the voting day activities. The chapter also reached out to potential voters to educate them on their civic duties and how they can help to ensure a peaceful, credible and transparent election process.
In Ghana, Transparency International’s chapter, the Ghana Integrity Initiative in collaboration with a coalition of civil society organisations launched a project to monitor abuse of incumbency and political corruption during the 2012 presidential election. The project recorded incidents of incumbency abuse and tried to stop them to ensure that those in power did not use government resources to advance individual interests.
Volunteers across 10 regions of the country were trained to capture instances of such abuse and electoral corruption, using telephone cameras and digital recorders. The project also involved monitoring state-owned newspapers, television stations and radio to assess the quality of election coverage, including the tone used and the messages conveyed.
Overall, the report revealed unequal access to state media resources for political parties, with the incumbent ruling party – which ended up winning the elections – receiving more news space and airtime than opposition groups.
Strengthening checks and balances
According to l’Association Guinéenne de Transparence (AGT), the country has made some headway in governance. Following pressure from local civil society groups and the international community, the government is overhauling the country's mining legislation and has published mining revenues for 2007-2010 under the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative.
A technical committee comprising civil society, government and companies was set up to review existing accords and elaborate recommendations for strong measures on transparency, tenders and community rights. AGT and other civil society organisations have been advocating for a comprehensive national anti-corruption law. A draft bill is currently being reviewed by the National Transitional Council, the country's ad hoc legislative body. Dialogue between the government and the opposition has resumed and violence has decreased.
However, much more remains to be done to rebuild trust in a country divided along political and ethnic lines. For Mamadou Taran Diallo, AGT’s director, the electoral system needs a complete overhaul to ensure credible and transparent election cycles. For too long, political parties have abused it to promote the interests of their champions while ignoring the wishes of the population. It will also be necessary to strengthen the capacity of the political system, the judiciary and security forces so they can function as accountable and effective institutions.
The parliamentary elections will be one step in a long and complex process towards accountable government, but an important one to lay a strong foundation for greater respect for the rule of law.
President Condé was elected on a platform for good governance and economic reforms. Three years later the parliamentary elections will be a crucial test not only for him but also for Guinea’s ability to build an accountable and inclusive society.
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