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Guinea to elect parliament as ethnic tensions simmer

26 september 2013, 12:31
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Guineans will on Saturday vote in the first parliamentary elections in the troubled west African nation in over a decade, after months of delays and a campaign plagued by deadly unrest, AFP reports.

The election has been delayed numerous times since the country's first-ever democratic poll in 2010, stoking deadly ethnic tensions that have dogged Guinean politics since independence.

Five million voters will choose from some 1,700 candidates vying for 114 seats in a national assembly which will replace the transitional parliament that has been running the country since military rule came to an end in 2010.

The vote was initially due to have been held within six months of the swearing-in of President Alpha Conde in December of that year, but has been delayed amid disputes over its organisation.

The opposition has accused the president's camp and the electoral commission of conniving to rig Saturday's vote, and protests in the capital Conakry have often descended into violence.

This week opposition protesters shot dead a trainee policeman as renewed clashes broke out across the city, leaving more than 70 people wounded.

One of the poorest countries in the region despite vast potential for mineral exploitation,Guinea was run by a succession of autocratic rulers after gaining independence from France in 1958.

A military junta took control in December 2008 at the death of President Lansana Conte, who seized power in a coup 24 years earlier. In 2010, civilian rule was ushered in after a transition period and an election also marred by delays and violent ethnic clashes.

Power pits Fulani against Malinke

Politics in Guinea typically polarises some two dozen ethnic groups who otherwise live in harmony alongside each other -- with the Fulani the largest at around 40 percent of the population followed by the Malinke and Soussou.

The country's iron-fisted first president Ahmed Sekou Toure was a Malinke who ruled for 26 years until his death in 1984, denouncing the economically dominant Fulani as hoarders of the country's wealth.

When Alpha Conde, also a Malinke, defeated Fulani opponent Cellou Dalein Diallo in 2010, this once again deprived the country's biggest and wealthiest ethnic group of political power again.

"These elections will take place in a context of discord between the two main ethnic groups, the Fulani and Malinke, who have been manipulated by political parties," said Aliou Barry, president of the National Observatory of Democracy and Human Rights.

"The Fulani believe that since independence, they have not had any power, unlike the other ethnic groups, the Malinke, the Soussou and the Guerze. They feel the 2010 presidential election was stolen from them."

Conde's Rally of the Guinean People claims to espouse socialism while its main opponents, the Union of Democratic Forces of Guinea (UDFG) and the Union of Republican Forces (URF) have centrist, liberal leanings.

But in practice there is little to separate their ideologies, say observers.

Guinea -- already the world's largest producer of bauxite, used to make aluminium -- has many other untapped minerals, including diamonds, gold and uranium.

It also lies above one of the planet's richest deposits of undeveloped iron ore, signed away by Conte on his death bed for a tiny percentage of its multi-billion-dollar value amid allegations of corruption in a deal reportedly being investigated by the FBI.

As a result, it remains one of the region's poorest nations, with stagnating economy and inflation at 13 percent, youth unemployment estimated at 60 percent and 178th out of 187 countries on the UN's Human Development Index.

Conde's programme of military cost-cutting, agreed with the IMF to rein in the country's debt, has fuelled further tension, with local and international media reporting that officers opposing the cuts have been fomenting unrest.

A Guinean minister said on Wednesday the country was "in danger" from outsiders plotting against it amid media reports that a coup was being planned in the capital Conakry.

Security Minister Madifing Diane made the comments in response to a story in Paris-based weekly Le Canard Enchaine which said it had seen French and American secret service documents "announcing a coup in Conakry".

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