(Audio avilable further in this article)
CONAKRY, Sept 30 (Reuters) - Guinea, one of the world's biggest sources of the aluminium ore bauxite, is due to hold a run-off in a delayed presidential election in October, a vote aimed at ending a political crisis that has persisted in the West African country since a 2008 military coup.
The electoral commission (CENI) has proposed Oct. 10 as the revised date for the vote, which was due to have been held on Sept. 19 but delayed for what CENI said were logistical reasons.
(To listen to this article, click on the player below)
Interim head of state Sekouba Konate has yet to approve the new date, parties of both candidates have said they doubt it will go ahead then and the process is becoming increasingly fraught and fragile.
Cellou Dalein Diallo, who polled highest in June 27's first round, and second-placed Alpha Conde, have in turn accused CENI of bias. Ex-prime minister Diallo is the favourite, having secured the backing of a leading rival.
A truly free and fair vote could mark a turning point for the country and set a powerful example to the region, where civil war, armed power grabs and accusations of rigged elections have become common.
Guineans and foreign observers see a legitimate poll as a first step towards Guinea winning back foreign aid and ensuring its mineral wealth benefits its 10 million people.
The army stepped into the vacuum left when President Lansana Conte died in December 2008 after more than two decades in power, selecting Captain Moussa Dadis Camara as head of the junta, and de facto head of state.
Camara won early popularity but then reneged on promises to hand power back to civilians. He became an international pariah when security forces killed 150 unarmed pro-democracy marchers on Sept. 28, 2009, a massacre in which the United Nations said Camara was implicated.
In December a former aide-de-camp wounded Camara in an assassination bid, since when he has undergone medical treatment in Morocco and has been convalescing outside Guinea. His second in command Konate took over and named a transitional government tasked to prepare elections.
What to watch:
- Another delay. In September, street fighting between rival supporters killed one person and injured dozens of others. The Diallo and Conde camps have traded accusations of attempted vote-rigging, and the longer supporters have to wait to vote, the more tension will rise. The credibility of Konate, Diallo and Conde is also at stake, and the national and international standing of all those involved will suffer if there are repeat postponements, as has been the case in neighbouring Ivory Coast.
- Conduct of vote. Several candidates in the first round alleged fraud, and international observers, while saying they were generally satisfied with the process, noted logistical problems. To minimise the risk of a challenge after the second round, the electoral commission will want to make sure there are as few problems as possible.
- Loser disputes result. While the electoral process may be able to withstand challenges of the count in a handful of districts, if the loser says the entire second round is fraudulent or flawed, and his supporters take that grievance onto the streets, Guinea may have a major problem. The foreign governments which have spent $41 million between them on the vote have stressed to candidates the importance of respecting the result, but a loser denouncing the result rather than offering to work with the winner could provoke serious unrest.
- Ethnic conflict. Diallo and Conde draw support essentially on ethnic lines. Conde belongs to the Malinke ethnic group, as does around 35 percent of the population, while Diallo is a Peuhl, a group which makes up around 40 percent.
Ethnic divisions have historically been a factor in Guinean politics. Malinke are seen as having held sway under President Sekou Toure, the country's first post-independence leader, while successor Lansana Conte belonged to the minority Soussou group. Camara came from one of the minorities in the southeast of the country. Many Peuhl believe it is their turn to govern. Witnesses said much of the Sept. 28 violence was ethnically motivated. The nightmare scenario is that an ethnic flare-up triggers tensions among the same ethnic groups in neighbours such as Sierra Leone and Liberia.
Army tries to retain power. Konate has not had to deal with any major rebellion in the ranks. Still, some analysts believe parts of the army will not readily step down from power, and the United Nations' top regional figure has warned that Guinea runs the risk of another army takeover if the vote is further delayed.
Konate has already rewarded soldiers for their good behaviour during the first round with across the board promotions, but whoever wins the election may have to buy off officers with some form of sweetener, which would mean smaller revenues to reform public services and infrastructure.
- Security. Even if the army does not attempt to hold onto power or destabilise the incoming government, its past role in maintaining law and order has been counter-productive. Military discipline has improved greatly under Konate but last year soldiers were blamed for robberies and attacks on civilians. Though it seems unlikely foreign firms will be targeted, some executives quit the country last year on security concerns.
Guinea relies on minerals for over 70 percent of exports. Its best established export industry is bauxite, the feedstock ore for aluminium, of which it is the world's biggest shipper. With its Friguia complex, RUSAL has capacity for 640,000 tonnes of alumina a year which the Russian firm ships around the world for further refining into aluminium.
As well as bauxite, Guinea is a producer of gold and iron ore is the country's major growth industry.
Joint ventures of Rio Tinto and Chinalco, and Vale and BSG Resources, are between them spending more than $5 billion on the Simandou and Zogota iron ore projects, deals agreed this year.
- Contract review and security of title. Both Diallo and Conde have said they will review mining contracts if elected. But as long as the parameters of such a review are clear, most firms will be content to work with the authorities on it. Analysts point out that Guinea has an interest in maintaining relations with incumbents so as to maintain state revenues from the mines.
- Strikes and protests. Output at Friguia was almost completed halted by a 16-day strike over pay earlier this year, while wildcat strikes and blockades by residents are common. Mining firms are often targeted by Guineans angry at lack of basic infrastructure and utilities provision.
- New projects. Were large-scale new projects to get the go-ahead this year, it would be a boost for the new government.
BHP Billiton is, with Global Alumina, Dubai Aluminium Co and Mubadala Developments, a shareholder in Guinea Alumina Corporation, a joint venture which plans to build a 3.3-million tonne-per-year alumina refinery.
SOCIETY AND WIDER ECONOMY
Annual mining revenues worth around $100 million to the government have not been enough to pull Guinea out of poverty, with the country ranked 170 out of 182 in the most recent United Nations Human Development Index of living standards. A smooth election is vital to any change in its fortunes.
What to watch:
- Donors coming back. The European Union last year suspended development aid and withdrew a plan for a fishing partnership with Guinea. But foreign donors will want to reward democratic progress by swiftly unblocking aid and Guinea's new leaders can expect help, notably from Brussels and ex-colonial power France.
- Infrastructure improvements. Many Guineans are without access to electricity and running water, and less than a third of the population is literate. Any new government will be under pressure from the street to make improvements fast.
(Additional reporting and writing by Daniel Magnowski; editing by Mark John and Alison Williams)