Violence mars Guinea's constitutional referendum vote

By James Tasamba

KIGALI, Rwanda (AA) – Voters in Guinea went to the polls Sunday to elect members of parliament and vote on a constitutional referendum in an election marred by violence.

Violence erupted in different parts of the country, including the capital Conakry, following protests by a group that had heeded the opposition’s call to boycott the election.

The protests caused delays to the start of the voting process at various polling stations, local media reported.

The protests were called by opposition groups opposed to the election — the Union of Democratic Forces of Guinea and the Union of Republican Forces — which oppose any amendments to the Guinean constitution.

Since last October, opposition supporters have engaged in running battles with security forces, demanding President Alpha Conde’s exit after his term comes to an end.

In Kolaboui sub-prefecture, angry protestors stormed three polling stations, setting fire to election materials including ballot boxes, local news site Mosaïque Guinée reported.

At the Petit Symbaya polling station in the commune of Ratoma in Conakry, protestors attacked polling officials, pelting them with stones before they were repelled by the Special Election Security Unit (USSEL), according to local news site Guinee114.

It took the intervention of police who fired shots in the air and reinforcements from USSEL to restore temporary order.

In Conakry’s Dar Es Salam neighborhood, a young man in his 20s was reportedly killed after being shot in the chest in clashes with security forces, according to the media reports.

The amendment seeks to increase the president’s term to seven years from five.

Conde, 82, who voted in Kaloum, expressed confidence in the vote, calling on Guineans to maintain peace and solidarity.

Some civil society groups had called for postponement of the polls due to fears over the novel coronavirus.

Guinea has reported two cases of the virus, according to the National Agency for Health Security.

But speaking after casting his vote, Conde reassured that the government was taking steps to contain the coronavirus.

Critics accuse Conde of planning to use the constitutional referendum to extend his stay in power.

Once approved, Conde’s previous terms served would not be considered.

Conde, whose second and final term ends in December, is constitutionally barred from running for a third term.

He has not clearly indicated his interests in running again, only insisting in media interviews that the decision lies in the hands of his party.

Constitutional amendments can be approved after more than 50% of the votes cast are in favor.

About five million voters were registered for the vote, according to the Independent National Electoral Commission.

The date of the legislative elections and the referendum was postponed twice — initially from Feb. 16 to March 1, then to March 22.

A total of 43 opposition political parties selected by the electoral commission were in the race.