Guinea has completed its first democratic election since independence from France in 1958, recording a huge voter turn out in a run-off election that pit Guinea’s two largest ethnic groups against each other.
The months leading to Guinea’s presidential election runoff have seen several deadly clashes between the country’s ethno-political groups, but democracy appears to have been sewn.
Eyewitness reports say voters in Conakry streamed into voting stations from the early mornings, to cast their ballot. “Everybody is in a hurry to finish with the old system, money being stolen to benefit a few, the waste,” AFP quoted a retired doctor Saidou Cisse, 67, as saying.
Also the observation mission of the US-based Carter Center human rights group, said polling stations visited by leading observation mission were calm.
Showing a commitment to strive for a peaceful, free and democratic election, Guineas will either have former Prime Minister Cellou Dalein Diallo or the opposition leader, Alpha Conde as their first democratically elected president.
Diallo of the Union of Democratic Forces of Guinea (UFDG) and veteran opposition leader Conde of the Rally of the Guinean People (RPG), who came first and second respectively from a pack of 24 contestants in the first round, had issued a joint statement calling for calm during and after voting.
“We urgently appeal to all citizens of our country to carry out their civic duty in peace, tranquility and serenity… and that they make election day on 7 November and the post-election period, a historic moment of rediscovered brotherhood,” said Diallo.
Conde added: “We call on the authorities to make every effort to ensure the safety of one and all across the country. We reiterate our commitment to putting the best interests of our nation above all.”
The divisions are along ethnic lines. Despite being the largest ethnic group, a Peul has never been president. But the Malinke are heavily represented in the ruling military junta.
Nonetheless, Diallo, a Peul, is seen as the favourite for the presidency after gaining 44% of the first round vote in June, compared to 18% for Mr Conde, a Malinke.
While Sunday’s electoral process was relatively peaceful experts say there remains a high risk of violence between the country’s two largest ethnic groups – the Peul and Malinke – if the results are disputed.
Though supporters have clashed several times since the first round of elections in June, and the run-off had been delayed twice, Sunday marked a new era in Guinea’s struggle to implement democracy.
Since january, Guinea has been under the interim government of General Sekouba Konate, who took over from the leaders of a 2008 coup.
The military seized power after the death of the autocratic President, Lansana Conte, who had ruled the mineral-rich state for 24 years.
After an exhibition of incompetence on the part of the electoral commission, disagreements between the two presidential candidates and violence between rival supporters it appears democracy has come at last to Guinea.