Guinea proposes electoral law change that gives gov't access to completed ballots, voter list

CONAKRY, Guinea (AP) — Guinea's interim government wants to change the electoral code in a way that would give the government access to completed ballots, according to documents given to The Associated Press, a move that is fueling accusations of manipulation before next month's historic election.

A draft of the proposed ordinance given Wednesday to the Associated Press gives logistical control of the Sept. 19 presidential run-off to a department supervised by Jean-Marie Dore, the interim prime minister who is believed to be backing the race's underdog. The department's duties would include transporting ballots from the polls to the counting center and auditing the software used to create the electoral list. The latter duty would also give the government access to the voter roll.

The draft law conflicts with the constitution and an accord signed earlier this year by the country's military junta, which assigns these duties to the neutral National Independent Election Commission.

"This is an attempt by the prime minister to manipulate the vote. He knows that his candidate cannot win and so he wants to lay the groundwork for massive fraud," said Cellou Dalein Diallo, the top candidate who won 44 percent of the vote during the first round in June.

He is squaring off against longtime opposition leader Alpha Conde, who received around 20 percent of the vote. Dore, the interim prime minister, has never publicly stated his affiliation but is believed to be backing Conde.

Dore's spokesman Mamadou Sam said the election will be fair, even if the new ordinance passes.

"The intention of the prime minister is to have a run-off that is credible and transparent — all of the initiatives he is taking are with that aim in mind and not to try to sway the vote in favor of one candidate or another," he said.

It's unclear how the new law could pass, since it involves altering the constitution, a move that typically requires parliament's approval. In a memo dated Aug. 16 that was also given to the AP, the counsel to the prime minister's office says the interim government does not have the legal right to modify the constitution or the electoral code.

Talibe Diallo, a close ally of the prime minister, said the decree simply formalizes what already took place during the first round. He said the electoral commission in the impoverished country did not have enough cars to transport the ballots and were helped by the Ministry of Territorial Administration and Political Affairs, known by its French acronym MATAP.

The draft ordinance says elections will be "organized and supervised conjointly" by MATAP and the independent electoral commission.

The September vote is expected to mark a watershed in Guinea's troubled history, coming after the one-year rule of a brutal military junta that led to a Sept. 2009 massacre of hundreds of people.

Late last year when the head of the junta was suddenly forced into exile, it appeared the country had turned a corner. The junta's second-in-command signed an accord agreeing to hand over power to civilians. The first round of voting in June was largely seen as free and fair, an enormous step forward in a country that has never had a transparent poll. Then the problems started.

Diallo, the leading candidate, is a member of an ethnic group that has been systematically denied power under previous regimes. The Peul, which is the country's largest ethnic group, were openly targeted during the massacre inside the national stadium. Peul women were sought out and violently raped, according to Human Rights Watch.

Peul community leaders have vowed to lead a revolt if election results are distorted to prevent Diallo from winning. Conde, his opponent, is a Malinke, a group heavily represented in the deposed military junta. The country's first despot Sekou Toure was also Malinke and he clashed with the Peul, whom he accused of plotting against him. An untold number perished in Toure's jails.

"This tension between the Malinke and the Peul is definitely there. It cannot be underestimated," said Sidya Toure, a former prime minister who finished third in the first round and has endorsed Diallo.

"This attempt to change the electoral code is an aberration ... You can't change the constitution with an ordinance. It's an attempt to pour oil on the fire," he said.

In the neighborhood of Bambeto, one of the poor suburbs of Conakry that in the past has been the incubator for violent street protests, young men were already laying out plans.

"We are very, very upset by this ordinance," said 32-year-old Mamadou Diallo, a youth leader and a Peul. "This decree is a violation of our rules, a violation of our constitution. If it is signed into law, we will not hesitate to take to the streets. We will not back down."


Callimachi reported from Dakar, Senegal.