CONAKRY, Guinea (AP) — Guinea's opposition has announced that they are giving the country's election commission 72 hours to fix the nation's roll of registered voters, or they will pull out of the elections and start street protests. The opposition charges the just-released voter roll is deeply skewed in favor of the ruling party.
The ultimatum, issued by opposition spokesman Aboubacar Sylla, comes just weeks before Guinea is expected to hold a much-delayed parliamentary election on Sept. 24. The poll has been repeatedly rescheduled, as the opposition and the ruling party wrangle over the preparations for the vote. The delays mean that this West African nation has gone years without a functioning legislature.
"If in these 72 hours — which expire on Thursday — we don't get what we asked for, which is the publication of a new electoral list that fixes the various anomalies we have pointed out ... we are going to announce a schedule of street protests, and we are going to pull out of the electoral process," said Sylla by telephone on Tuesday to The Associated Press.
Sylla said that the anomalies and omissions in the voters' roll are concentrated in areas of the country that are known to be pro-opposition, especially the verdant province known as the Fouta, home to Guinea's Peul ethnic group. Compared to the list used in the last election in 2010, Sylla says that the number of registered voters in the Fouta has dropped by some 50 percent, while the prefecture known to be the fief of Guinea's ruling party saw an explosion of registered voters.
Djenabou Toure, the director in charge of the electoral list at the country's National Independent Electoral Commission, said the accusations are unfounded. "This electoral list is irreproachable," Toure said. Neither the presidential spokesman nor the government spokesman answered phone calls.
For a few days in 2010, it appeared that Guinea had finally turned a corner, after the military clique that had ruled the nation agreed to relinquish control and hold elections. The vote was deemed mostly free and fair, and was immediately hailed as the country's first exercise in democracy.
But although the actual poll might have been fair, the voting divided the nation along ethnic lines that have run like a fault beneath the country of 11.5 million, ever since its independence from France in 1958. The race came down to politicians from the two largest ethnic groups: the Peul, whose candidate lost; and the Malinke, whose candidate is now president. The Peul and the Malinke are estimated to make up about 35 to 40 percent of the total population. To rally support, both candidates resorted to thinly-veiled ethnic attacks.
For days after the 2010 results were announced, Conakry descended into ethnic violence, pitting Peul youth, armed with stones, against the mostly-Malinke security force, which opened fire. Hospitals filled up with the wounded. At Donka Hospital, the capital's largest, medical officials showed reporters the names of patients admitted in the course of the post-election riots: Almost all of them were named "Diallo," a typical Peul last name, indicating that a majority of the victims were Peul.
Since then, the Peul accuse the ruling party of systematically purging the administration of their Peul brethren, down to the janitors in government-owned buildings. The ruling party has roundly denied the accusations, saying that the opposition supporters are sore losers.
"The ethnic tensions have gotten worse," said Sylla. "We came out of the 2010 election with lots of conflict between ethnicities. The first thing that should have been the priority of this new government is reconciliation," he said. "Instead we saw what I'll call a mono-ethnization of the country. The entire administration and civil service is from the ethnicity of the president. The owners of businesses with whom the government contracts are all from the ethnicity of the president. So this has created frustration," he said. "It's why we are hoping for a peaceful election, because otherwise things could get a lot worse."
__ Callimachi contributed to this report from Dakar, Senegal. __ Rukmini Callimachi can be reached at www.twitter.com/rcallimachi .