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Guinea presidential rivals both claim victory

October 24, 2020

Incumbent President Alpha Conde and opposition candidate Cellou Dalein Diallo have both declared victory following reports from the electoral commission. The conflicting results have raised fears of violence.

President Alpha Conde left) and opposition candidate Cellou Dalein Diallo
Image: Carol Valade and Seyllou/AFP/Getty Images

Guinea's electoral commission has declared incumbent President Alpha Conde the winner of last week's bitterly fought presidential poll, giving him a third term in office with 59% of the vote.

However, opposition candidate Cellou Dalein Diallo, Conde's closest rival, has also declared victory with 53% of the vote. He said he has evidence of electoral fraud and plans to file a complaint with the constitutional court.

Guinea's electoral commission has disputed these claims, saying that Dalein Diallo received only 33.5% of the vote. The country is now bracing for protests, amid fears that post-election violence could turn bloody. 

The usually bustling streets of Guinea's capital, Conakry, were deserted on Saturday night except for the military's massive presence. Lansana Kamara, a mechanic, told DW he was very concerned by the violence that has gripped the West African nation following the October 18 presidential election.

"I am afraid, if things go bad for the country, this would not be good for anyone," he said.

On Friday, there were reports of gunfire after the government deployed the military in Conakry's streets in anticipation of violence and to "maintain peace." Internet disruptions were also experienced, according to digital rights groups and witnesses.

Opposition slams Conde, Dalein Diallo

Opposition politicians from the Union of Democratic Forces Party (UFDG) have condemned Saturday's developments.

"Everything was preprogrammed to ensure the election commission CENI, the national independent election commission, were able to declare the result. In truth, we had no election but a procedure to confirm or legitimize a preplanned decision," party leader Amadou Bah Oury told DW.

Oury also criticized Dalein Diallo's move to declare himself the winner. "We had told Cellou Dalein Diallo not to participate in the election. If he did participate, he would only be an 'accessory,'" he said, adding that Dalein Diallo would now have to answer to the people "for risking human lives.'"

"Both will pay for it in the end one way or another," he added.

Thierno Diallo, a UFDG politician, said the move is a continuation of the government's disrespect of the will of the Guinean electorate. "This is why they [government] are putting the country under a state of emergency for them to deploy their plan to steal power again," he told DW.

In an interview with DW's French for Africa Service, Alpha Souleymane Ba Fisher, a lawmaker from the ruling RPG party, accused Dalein Diallo of stoking unnecessary political tension. "He invited his activists to take to the streets and attack people so that the country would fall into chaos," Ba Fisher said.

There are conflicting reports about how many people have been killed. The government claims nine people, including a police officer, have died due to the election protests. Opposition groups say the number is much higher. According to Germany's dpa news agency, 20 people have lost their lives.

Read more: Conde poised for landslide election win

Supporters of Guinea's opposition presidential candidate Cellou Dalein Diallo celebrating.
Cellou Dalein Diallo's self-declared victory triggered celebrations among his supporters in ConakryImage: John Wessels/AFP

Election process questioned

Though held in a tense environment, last Sunday's election was praised as calm and orderly except for "small incidents here and there," according to Guinea's Prime Minister Ibrahima Kassory Fofana. Election observers from both the African Union and Economic Community of West African States said the election was mostly fair.

"From the opening of the poll to the closing of the poll — that part of the process generally went well," said opposition politician Thierno Diallo. "The problem was after the polls closed, to the counting and posting of the results."

But RPG lawmaker Ba Fisher said Guinea is a country with a constitution and institutions which must be respected. "Even the president of the republic listens to what these institutions say," he said.

"Guinea faces a severe crisis," said Paul Melly, an associate fellow at the London-based Chatham House. "The opposition and its supporters do not trust the electoral system. The decision by opposition candidate Dalein Diallo to declare himself winner only adds to the uncertainty in a sense to confrontation."

Read more: Guinea votes as president seeks to extend decade in power

Is Diallo under house arrest?

For the past three days, security officers have sealed off Dalein Diallo's house, and a party member has said nobody can go in or out.

Guinean voters queue to vote.
Guinea's voting exercise on October 18 went ahead smoothly, without major incidentsImage: Cellou Binani/AFP

Asked by DW whether Conde's main rival faces arrest, Ba Fisher said that was not part of the agenda. "At the moment, we have to protect him so that other extremists don't try to take his life and put it on our account. That would be much worse," Ba Fisher said.

"It just fuels a more polarized political climate that is getting more and more difficult," Melly said. "Human rights have deteriorated, and there is a sense that what little trust there was in the Guinean political system two or three years ago has faded."

In 2015, Guinea conducted a peaceful election that saw the reelection of President Alpha Conde. The opposition argued that he has pushed to change the constitution so he could run for another term. "This contest is quite a setback and does not do anything to restore any sense of cohesion or national unity or any sense of a government that is chosen with the mass consent of the people," Melly said.

Read more: Guinea presidential election: Alpha Conde again?

France's role in Guinea's next leader 

France, Guinea's former colonial power, has remained silent over the political developments. "I am hoping that Paris respects democracy and respects the will of the people of Guinea," said Thierno Diallo. "France is not the one to decide who becomes our leader, but once the people decide, the president-elect must be supported because this is the will of the Guinean population."

For West Africa as a whole, Guinea's crisis is perhaps less worrying than the situation in Ivory Coast. Analyst Melly said Guinea is less integrated into West Africa's political leadership than Ivory Coast. "But the crisis in Guinea is just as serious."

Back on the empty streets of Conakry, mechanic Kamara has a word of advice for the politicians arm wrestling over power. "Confusion always puts a nation backward. We are all sons of Guinea; we must come together," he said.

Karim Kamara contributed to this report.