Talks on Guinea Polls Inch Forward

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Alpha Conde

DAKAR — The U.N. special representative to West Africa, Said Djinnit, says talks between Guinea's government and opposition about the upcoming legislative elections are making headway. The opposition says it will agree to the government’s choice of poll operator and call off its boycott if the government agrees to ten conditions. Political analysts are cautiously optimistic.

Guinea's government says it could be willing to meet certain opposition demands, such as allowing Guineans living abroad to vote in the upcoming legislative polls and resuming the revision of electoral registers.

In return, the opposition says it will go along with the government’s choice of South African company Waymark to handle the technical side of voter registration and vote counting.  

The dispute over the poll operator has sparked deadly opposition protests over the past year. The opposition announced in February that it would boycott the election.

Vincent Foucher, a senior analyst for West Africa at the International Crisis Group (ICG), said this latest round of talks is promising.

"Well, this is a big step actually.  The situation has been blocked for a long time and it does seem like there is beginning of advances on a number of key blocking points.  But I think working on Guinea, you get bipolar.  Things go up and down and up and down.  There have been previous episodes of optimism, followed by new blocks, and I think we should be very cautious," Foucher said.

Guinea has not had an elected National Assembly since before the death of longtime president Lansana Conté in December 2008.  Legislative elections were supposed to be held four months after President Alpha Condé came to power in December 2010, but disagreements over the organization of the polls have led to repeated delays.

An international mediator was brought in at the end of March to help things move forward, but talks stumbled after the government announced an election date of June 30th.

This led to several weeks of violent clashes between opposition supporters and government security forces at protests in the capital, Conakry.  More than 50 people were killed and hundreds more injured.
Foucher said the two sides just might be ready to reach an agreement this time.

"My guess now is that on both sides people are a bit scared of the violence and the consequences that are emerging from the demonstrations and the risks that each side is actually taking by being part of this violence.  So maybe this is what is making people sort of more happy to talk now," Foucher said.

Guinea country officer for the pro-democracy group Open Society Initiative for West Africa, Mathias Hounkpe, said it will take time to implement any decisions that come out of talks.

"If it was signed, that will mean, for instance, that at least in a few weeks from now, the process will get back on.  Now they will have to allow, for instance, for more people to get registered, because as you know, because of the crisis and the boycotts from the opposition side, we tend to believe that some of their voters may not have been registered," Hounkpe said.

June 30 is less than three weeks away, and analysts say a postponement of the elections is possible.

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