Guinea goes to the polls as President Alpha Conde seeks a third term in a poll expected to be a tight race between the incumbent and a key opposition leader.
Voters in Guinea went to the polls on Sunday as octogenarian President Alpha Conde sought to extend his decade in power after pushing through a new constitution that allowed him to run for a third term, sparking months of violent protests.
At least 50 people have been killed over the past year during demonstrations against the new constitution, Amnesty International said, and violence erupted repeatedly during campaigning in recent weeks.
In the capital, Conakry, dozens of voters queued quietly at a polling station in a primary school whose exterior wall was plastered with posters of Conde.
“I hope that things will happen in peace,” said Mariama Camara, a housewife.
“I voted for change,” said Mamadou Diallo, a trader.
While no reliable opinion polls are available, many political analysts expect Conde to prevail after he won overwhelming approval for the new constitution in a referendum in March – although that vote was boycotted by the opposition.
Conde, 82, faces 11 challengers, including his long-time rival Cellou Dalein Diallo. Diallo, a former prime minister who finished runner-up to Conde in elections in 2010 and 2015, has warned about fraud and said he will challenge any irregularities.
Conde, who has described the constitutional reform as fair and democratic, says he needs more time to finish major mining and infrastructure projects in the West African country.
“We have laid the foundations of development,” he told supporters at his final campaign rally on Friday at a soccer stadium in Conakry. “Likewise, we are going to commit ourselves to the social conditions of Guineans.”
Guinea has made progress developing its mineral riches, including bauxite and iron ore, and the gross domestic product has doubled under Conde’s presidency. But many Guineans complain the mining boom has not ended frequent power cuts and unemployment.
The national election commission said on Saturday provisional results would be published within three days after it receives the last polling station tally. The constitutional court will then have eight days to declare a winner.
The United Nations has warned about divisive appeals to ethnic affiliations on the campaign trail. Conde and Diallo both draw much of their support from their respective ethnic communities.
Guinea has been plagued by sporadic political unrest since independence from France in 1958, often fuelled by ethnic tensions.
Armed men attacked a military base in western Guinea late on Thursday and killed the camp’s commander, but it was not clear if the assault was connected to the election.
Pro-democracy activists are concerned that the election – and a presidential vote due later this month in neighboring Ivory Coast – may damage democracy in a region that had previously won praise for its leaders’ adherence to term limits.
Ivorian President Alassane Ouattara, who first won power in 2010, is also seeking re-election, has argued that a new constitution in 2016 reset the clock on the two-term limit.