CONAKRY – Guinea's electoral commission on Saturday declared that President Alpha Conde had easily won a third term with 59% of the vote, setting the stage for potential clashes with the opposition whose candidate claimed victory days ago. The opposition quickly announced it would contest the results in court but offered no immediate evidence of fraud.
Some opposition supporters immediately went to the streets to protest after the announcement, while the opposition's statement accused Conde of trying to “impose an electoral coup” and called on the population “to mobilize to defend, by all legal means, the truth of the ballot boxes."
At least nine people had been killed, including children, amid unrest while the West African nation awaited the results over the past week.
Opposition candidate Cellou Dalein Diallo earlier announced he was the rightful winner of the Oct. 18 election, asserting that he received 53% of the vote. But the National Independent Electoral Commission said he received only about 33%.
Guinea already had seen months of deadly political unrest after the 82-year-old Conde backed a constitutional referendum, approved by voters in March, that effectively allows him to serve two further five-year terms. The opposition boycotted the referendum.
“Today is a sad day for African democracy,” said Sally Bilaly Sow, a Guinean blogger and activist living abroad. The government should take into account the will of the people who have a desire for change, he said.
On Friday, internet and international calls were cut off across the country in anticipation of the election results, according to locals and international observers in the capital, Conakry.
This was the third time that Conde faced against Diallo in an election. Before the latest vote, observers raised concerns that any electoral dispute could reignite ethnic tensions between Guinea’s largest ethnic groups. The two main candidates drew support from the Malinke and the Peuhl, and previous match-ups have resulted in violence.
Ibrahima Kalil Gueye, president of the Organization for Positive Change, a local civil society group, described Conde's new term as an “illegal mandate” and doubted that the situation will improve if security forces fire on demonstrators. He also questioned the validity of the vote, alleging that “the fraud is massive.”
When Conde came to power in 2010, in the country’s first democratic elections since independence from France in 1958, he was seen as a fresh start for a country wracked by decades of authoritarian rule. He had spent decades as an opposition figure under dictatorship.
Opponents, though, say Conde has failed to improve the lives of Guineans, most of whom live in poverty despite the country’s vast mineral riches. In his final campaign speech, opposition candidate Diallo condemned the high unemployment and human rights abuses of the past decade.
At least 50 people were killed in the past year in political violence, prompting U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres on the eve of the poll to urge political leaders to “refrain from acts of incitement.”
A new statement by Guterres's spokesman on Saturday merely took note of the announcement of the provisional election results and called on parties to “resolve electoral disputes through established legal mechanisms and to refrain from violence.”
Rights groups are concerned that more demonstrations and continued repression by security forces "could have disastrous repercussions,” said Ilaria Allegrozzi, a Human Rights Watch researcher. The human toll from the violence is likely higher than documented but has been difficult to verify due to cuts to internet and mobile phone services, she said.
The International Criminal Court at The Hague has said it is “deeply concerned” about the mounting tensions in the country of some 12 million people.
Sam Mednick in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso contributed.