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DAKAR/CONAKRY: Guinea’s presidential run-off yesterday will be the toughest test of democracy to date in West Africa’s “coup belt”, pitting the country’s main ethnic groups against each other in a potentially explosive contest.
Outbursts of ethnic violence since the first round on June 27 have raised fears that Guinea’s only chance at free and fair elections since independence from France in 1958 could descend into chaos if the results are challenged.
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The vote will come close on the heels of Ivory Coast’s October 31 first round of presidential elections and a constitutional referendum in Niger, both of which passed off peacefully despite some fears of unrest. “In the West African sub-region, the momentum right now is fully behind smooth elections,” said Rolake Akinola of Eurasia Group. “But of all the countries now in the process of transition, Guinea is the most problematic.”
The stakes are high for the world’s top supplier of the aluminium ore bauxite, whose resource riches have attracted billions of dollars of planned investment from companies like Vale and Rio Tinto but where instability since a military coup in 2008 has hampered development.
Guineans eager to end decades of authoritarian rule voted peacefully during the first round but are worried the run-off — between former Prime Minister Cellou Dallein Diallo and veteran opposition leader Alpha Conde — could trigger unrest.
Supporters of the rival camps, representing Guinea’s two most populous ethnic groups the Peul and Malinke, have already clashed repeatedly.