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Ebola and Ethnic Clashes Loom as Polls Close in Guinea Election

Tensions are running high in Guinea’s capital as citizens await results from the second democratic election in the West African country's post-colonial history.
Photo by Luc Gnago/Reuters

Opposition leaders condemned Guinea's presidential elections before the last ballots were submitted on Sunday, and tensions are running high in the capital as citizens await results from the second democratic election in the West African country's post-colonial history.

The polls closed and ballot counting officially began at 8pm local time. More than 6 million people registered to vote in the elections that have Guinea's President Alpha Conde facing off against seven other candidates. Former prime minister Cellou Dalein Diallo is thought to be the main threat to the incumbent's campaign, which has been hindered by a faltering economy and the unprecedented Ebola outbreak.


Issues arose at several polling locations in the morning, with some venues opening later than expected. There were also reports at some sites of a lack of supplies, particularly envelopes for the ballots. As a result of the morning delays, the national electoral commission extended voting hours from 6pm until 8pm.

"The Electoral commission probably was less ready than what it asserted," Frank Engel, the European Union's chief observer, said, according to Bloomberg. "I have the impression at this moment that what we saw, observed and which was indicated to us does not smear the regularity of the vote."

On Sunday evening about an hour before the polls closed, the opposition held a press conference, where spokesman Aboubacar Sylla read a communique announcing that all seven opposition candidates will convene in the coming hours. In a press release issued on Sunday night, the UFDG opposition party accused the government of rigging ballots and forcing candidates out of polling places, among other allegations.

Despite the worsening economy in Guinea since Conde's first presidential victory in 2010 — an election marred by allegations of fraud and post-electoral violence — the incumbent is expected to secure another victory, although the 77-year-old leader will likely be forced into a second round of polling.

"I ask all Guineans, whatever their party, to fulfill their civic duty peacefully and calmly," the head of state said on Sunday after voting in Conakry, the BBC reported.


Related: It's Been a Week Without Any New Ebola Cases in West Africa

Hand-washing buckets were set up outside polling stations, a crucial sanitary measure as the country continues to battle the Ebola virus, which has killed more than 11,000 people to date in West Africa since it first showed up in Guinea's forest region in December 2013.

As a slightly different safety precaution, the government dispatched thousands of security forces throughout the country ahead of the elections. There were also dozens of international election observers present from the African Union and European Union to monitor activities. No injuries or violence was reported in the country on Sunday, but a flare-up of deadly clashes occurred in the days leading up to the vote.

Earlier in the week, one person died and dozens of people were shot and wounded in riots on October 4 that saw supporters of Conde and Diallo face off against each other. Officials enforced a curfew after the clashes in an effort to stem further violence, but less than 24 hours before polls opened, seven people were killed in Conakry and the eastern district of Banankoro on Saturday.

The weekend clashes were sparked after Guinea's high court announced it was denying requests from the opposition to delay the vote, confirming that elections would proceed as scheduled on Sunday. All but one of the opposing candidates had asked for the vote to be moved to a later date.


Diallo vowed to boycott the election, but he ultimately agreed to take part and cast his ballot. "We must hope there will not be [violence] after the elections and that the people of Guinea show maturity," he said on Sunday, according to the BBC.

Related: Guinea's Opposition Leader Describes Police Firing Tear Gas and AK-47s at Protests

Located along the Atlantic coast of West Africa, Guinea officially gained independence from France in 1958. Ahmed Sékou Touré ran the country for the next 24 years before he was ousted in a coup led by military official Lansana Conté, who ran the country through a military junta until he himself was thrown out in a coup by Moussa Dadis Camara in 2008. Guinea was also affected by residual conflict from the civil wars in neighboring Liberia and Sierra Leone during the 1990s and 2000s.

Conde's first win during the 2010 presidential vote was widely considered to be the country's first free and fair election, although the opposition claimed the vote was riddled with fraud. The country's political atmosphere is layered with ethnic tensions, as ballots are often cast along ethnic lines and political parties use these divisions in their favor.

Results for Sunday's election are expected on October 13.

Follow Kayla Ruble on Twitter: @RubleKB

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