Guineans have voted in parliamentary elections two years overdue, amid ethnic and political violence. It's the first democratic parliamentary vote since Guinea's independence from France in 1958.
The vote was meant to have been held within six months of the inauguration of President Alpha Conde in 2010, but there have been numerous delays in how the poll should be organized, leading to deadly tensions that have killed more than 50 people over the past few months.
Elected lawmakers will replace a transitional council that has been in place since military rule came to an end in 2010, with more than 1,700 candidates competing for 114 seats in the national assembly. Five million people are expected to cast their vote.
No party is expected to win an outright majority, with coalition negotiations most likely needing to take place following the poll.
As Guinea is one of the poorest countries in the region, it is hoped that smooth elections will help resource-rich Guinea attract investors, who have dropped away from the mining sector due to the political unrest and collapse of metal prices.
Guinea's decades of political instability followed its gaining independence from France in 1958. After this, the country was run by a succession of autocratic rulers. A military coup took place in December 2008, after the death of President Lansana Conte, who himself had taken power in a coup 24 years earlier.
In 2010, civilian rule was ushered in following a transition period and an election also noted by delays and violence.
"These elections will allow us to emerge from a chaotic five-year transition," Conde told reporters on Friday. Conde, from the Malinke ethnic group, understood to be Guinea's second-largest, leads the Rally of the Guinean People and claims to support socialism.
Conde's rival, Cellou Dalein Diallo, from the Fullani group that makes up about 40 percent of the population, heads the centrist liberal Union of Democratic Forces of Guinea. The opposition has accused Conde's camp and the electoral commission of planning to rig the vote.
Several hundred people had gathered at polling stations as they opened on Saturday morning, including Alkaly Cisse, who had queued at a school for more than an hour.
"I came today to vote and accomplish my duty because we need to create change that will get us out of this situation," Cisse, 60, said.
Calls for calm on anniversary of bloody protest
On Friday, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon called for a peaceful, transparent and credible election. A last-minute deal brokered by the UN allowed the vote to go ahead and calmed opposition fears.
If the vote is successful, it will also free up 140 million euros ($189 million) in aid from the European Union.
Saturday also marks the fourth anniversary of a massacre of about 150 pro-democracy demonstrators in the capital Conakry. The demonstrators were shot, stabbed, bludgeoned or trampled to death, after rallying against the military junta then in power.
jr/hc (Reuters, AFP)