Guineans overwhelmingly vote to back controversial new constitution

Guinea voted to support a disputed new constitution, the country’s electorate said on Friday in a blow to opponents of President Alpha Condé who fear that the reforms are a ploy to extend their grip on power.

The proposal to amend the constitution was extremely controversial in the West African state, which sparked mass protests in which 32 people were ultimately killed, according to an AFP count.

The chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission, Amadou Salifou Kebe, told reporters that 91.59% of the votes were in favor of adopting the new constitution, while 8.41% were against.

The participation rate was 61%, he added, saying that these were provisional figures.

The vote was originally scheduled for March 1 but has been postponed to March 22 due to international criticism of its fairness.

Authorities prosecuted him after erasing some 2.5 million unverifiable names from his electoral register, on the advice of the West African ECOWAS bloc.

Election day was marked by violence, with dozens of polled polling stations across the country and, according to the country’s political opposition, dozens of people killed.

Authorities said that only a few deaths occurred on polling day and that the voting took place calmly.

However, as a sign of impatience with the Condé government abroad, France, the United States and the United Nations all expressed their reservations on the March 22 vote.

France, a former colonial power, condemned election-related violence in Guinea this week and said the vote was not credible.

The United States also said this week that the situation in Guinea is worrying and shares international concerns about the fairness of the vote and the lack of political dialogue that surrounds it.

The United Nations Special Representative in West Africa, Mohamed Ibn Chambas, also issued a statement, saying that he was following the events “with great concern”.

Eric Humphery-Smith, senior analyst at Verisk Maplecroft, risk consultant, said the election results were “not a surprise”, but that the magnitude of the president’s victory was.

“The result is a victory for Condé, allowing him to run for this precious third term,” he said.

Third term

The result could pave the way for Condé, 82, to pursue a new term when his second term ends this year bypassing the term limits.

A former opposition figure imprisoned in hard-line regimes, Condé made history in 2010 as the first democratically elected president in a country with a chronic history of military coups and unrest.

Voters returned him to power in 2015 for his second and final five-year term under the current constitution, but critics say he has become increasingly authoritarian.

The government maintains that the constitution must be updated to initiate much-needed social change, especially for women.

The reforms would include banning female genital mutilation and early marriage and granting spouses equal rights in the event of divorce.

The draft charter would limit presidential terms to two but extend the term to six years.

However, critics fear that a new constitution will indeed reset the presidential term to zero, potentially allowing Condé to govern for 12 years.

Condé himself did not deny that he could use the proposed changes to find another term.

Besieged opposition

The result of the referendum will also increase the pressure on the Guinean political opposition.

The main opposition parties boycotted the referendum – and the same-day legislative elections – arguing that Condé’s maneuvers amounted to a “constitutional coup”.

Former Prime Minister and opposition leader Cellou Dalein Diallo told AFP last week that “there is no basis for saying that this vote will be transparent, fair.”

Attention is now focused on the presidential elections in Guinea, which are expected to take place by the end of this year.

Condé told the French media that there was “nothing more democratic” than holding a referendum and that it was up to his party to determine whether he would run for president again.