Guinea elections 'postponed' after violence, fraud and delays

Presidential run-off elections in Guinea are postponed after a weekend of violence and ongoing delays in preparation. Four of the most senior surviving Khmer Rouge cadres indicted In Cambodia. eight killed in minibus blast in southeast Turkey. Growing row over Trident renewal threatens coalition. European row over France’s treatment of Roma migrants deepens after EU official compares France’s Roma policy to Holocaust. All this and more in today’s briefing.
Josephine Whitaker
16 September 2010

A second round run-off vote in Guinea’s presidential elections due to be held on Sunday has been “postponed,” according to election officials. Thierno Ceydou Bayo, head of communication for the National Independent Electoral Commission (otherwise known as Ceni), this morning announced that “there will be no election this Sunday…we have not yet decided on a new date.” The announcement came late yesterday, after interim Prime Minister Jean-Marie Dore met with the two presidential hopefuls, Cellou Dalein Diallo and Alpha Conde.

The move follows a weekend of violence in the tiny west African nation, in which at least one person was killed, after two senior election officials who presided over June’s first round vote were convicted of fraud. Electoral campaigning was brought to a halt by the violence, and logistical preparations for the second round have been delayed as a result.  

According to Said Djinnit, the United Nations secretary general’s special representative for west Africa, technical and logistical problems have “made it almost impossible” for the elections to go ahead. Ceni representative Foumba Kourouma is due to meet with candidates later today to set a new date.

Tensions rose after the first round over delays in vote counting and preparation for the second round. Two senior Ceni officials, including the head of the electoral commission, were found guilty of fraud committed during the first round. Conde, who secured only 18% of the vote compared to Diallo’s 44%, maintains that he was defrauded of 600,000 votes. The convictions sparked a wave of violence across the country, prompting the prime minister to announce on Monday that public order was more important than maintaining the electoral timetable.

The openSecurity verdict: June’s election was widely viewed as Guinea’s first genuinely democratic contest since the country became independent in 1958. Since then, Guinea has been ruled by a variety of military dictatorships. The first round elections saw 24 candidates qualify to stand in the polls, and were widely greeted with enthusiasm. However, this enthusiasm quickly turned to suspicion after subsequent irregularities.

Chief among these irregularities are the two high profile fraud convictions that have tarnished Ceni and seriously damaged the commission’s credibility in Guinea. Ceni chief Ben Sekou Sylla was convicted of fraud, but died just days later in a hospital in France. Sylla’s replacement by Hadja Aminata Mame Camara has prompted protests from Conde and his supporters, who see Camara as an ally of Diallo. Not only do the convictions cast doubt over the results of the first round, it also raises questions over Ceni’s ability to oversee second round, whenever that may happen.

However, it is not entirely clear why the election was delayed. Ceni’s head of planning, El Hadj Boubacar Diallo, said on Wednesday that the delay was due to the late arrival of voting materials, and not due to politics. According to officials, almost 500,000 voting cards are yet to be printed and delivered to Guinea from South Africa, which will push the poll back at least until the end of September.  

While it is quite probable that poor preparation is key factor in delaying the polls, the threat of delay has already inflamed tensions between the rival presidential candidates.

Diallo, as the leading candidate, accused the junta of deliberately delaying the vote to give rival Conde a chance to ‘catch up’ in the polls. Remarks made by the prime minister on Monday, to the effect that public order should take precedence over the electoral timetable have been interpreted by Diallo’s supporters as bias. The longer the second round is delayed, the more Diallo is likely to ramp up pressure. Diallo has warned that the patience of his supporters will not last forever, a threat already realised in areas that have seen clashes between rival supporters of Diallo and Conde. 

Commentators are divided on whether the delay will ensure a more efficient and peaceful second round, or whether it will increase instability in Guinea. Corrine Dufka, the west Africa regional director of Human Rights Watch told Reuters that “If the postponement means more Guineans get to freely elect their leader, that is positive. But if it becomes political, that is another thing.”

Many are concerned that the longer the poll is delayed, the more likely it is that Guinea’s tentative steps towards democratisation may collapse. A particular concern is that instability might open the door to opportunistic military elements. Although junta leader Sekouba Konate yesterday warned the Guinean army to remember its political neutrality, Guinea’s track record of military coups does not bode well. Just a year ago, security forces opened fire on opposition demonstrators in Conakry, killing over one hundred people. Konate’s predecessor, Moussa Dadis Camarra, who was then in charge of the country, was later injured in a coup attempt by a former body guard.  

Most senior surviving Khmer Rouge cadres indicted In Cambodia

Four of the most senior surviving members of Cambodia’s brutal Khmer Rouge regime are to face trial for crimes against humanity, war crimes and genocide, Cambodia’s UN-backed tribunal announced today. These high profile indictments come just weeks after the tribunal’s first ever conviction, of Duch, a former prison chief, who was sentenced to thirty years in prison for war crimes and crimes against humanity.

The four include “Brother Number Two”, Nuon Chea, 84, who served as second in command to the Khmer Rouge’s infamous leader, Pol Pot; and Ieng Sary, or “Brother Number Three”, who acted as the regime’s public face. Also to appear before the tribunal are Ieng Sary’s wife, Ieng Thirith, as known as the Khmer Rouge’s First Lady, and Khieu Samphan, one of the regime’s few diplomats. According to Reach Sambath, a spokesman for the tribunal, the indictments are “very good news for the people of Cambodia”.

The charges against them related specifically to the mass killing of ethnic Cham Muslims and Vietnamese citizens in Cambodia. All four will contest the charges against them. They are expected to appear before the tribunal early next year.

The tribunal, formally known as the Extraordinay Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC), is supported by the United Nations Assistance to the Khmer Rouge Trials (UNKART). It was established in 2006 after many years of foot dragging by the current government, which contains many former Khmer Rouge officials.

Minibus blast kills eight in southeast Turkey

An attack on a minibus in southeast Turkey early this morning has left at least eight dead and three others wounded. It was not immediately clear what caused the bus, which was travelling near Gurankaya, Hakkari province, to explode. According to local security officials, the bus hit a remote-controlled explosive device. Others, such as the English language daily Hurriyet, are reporting that the blast was caused by a landmine.

The area, close to Turkey’s borders with both Iran and Iraq, has experienced similar attacks in the past, carried out by the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), leading many commentators to conclude that the attack was the work of this separatist Kurdish rights organisation that is on terrorist watch lists across the world.

However, the PKK, which usually attacks military targets only, has been abiding by a self-declared ceasefire since June this year. According to Hurriyet, the pro-Kurdish Firat News Agency reported that the Kurdish Communities Union, an urban wing of the PKK, has denied responsibility for the attack.

Others believe the motivation for the attack was retribution for a local boycott of last week’s constitutional referendum, which saw a victory for the government’s changes.

Row over Trident renewal threatens British government unity

The British government is considering a delay to the replacement of Trident, the UK’s submarine-based nuclear missile system, as a means of cutting the national budget deficit, says a new BBC report.

Although the prime minister has not commented on this matter yet, a spokesman said that the government is committed to retaining the UK’s nuclear deterrent, but will “be looking at the profile of expenditure” of renewing the system, which is expected to cost up to £20 billion to renew and £100 billion over its lifespan.

The government may also postpone the final decision on Trident renewal until 2015, which would create huge savings for the ministry of defence in the short term and dodge a potential flash point for the Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition.

The Lib Dems campaigned strongly against renewal until they formed a coalition with Cameron’s party in May. Although the coalition agreement allows Lib Dem MPs to argue for alternatives to a nuclear deterrent, Trident is strongly supported by most Conservative ministers and MPs.

Supporters of Trident argue that delaying renewal will increase long-term costs to the tax-payer and may expose Britain to a period of vulnerability, while critics such as former Lib Dem leader Sir Menzies Campbell argue that quid-pro-quo replacement of the programme is a senseless waste of money.

Row erupts after EU official compares France’s Roma policy to Holocaust

The French government’s crackdown on Roma migrants in France has sparked a row that is set to dominate a meeting of European Union leaders in Brussels today.

Comments made by the European Justice Commissioner, Viviane Reding, ostensibly comparing France’s expulsion of Roma communities with World War Two deportations, have outraged French President Nicholas Sarkozy.

Reding, speaking earlier this week about France’s actions against the Roma, said “this is a situation I had thought Europe would not have to witness again after the Second World War.” Although she later expressed regret that her comments had been ‘misinterpreted,’ her remarks have angered the French government, which maintains its human rights record is irreproachable.

Sarkozy’s anti-Roma policy has seen thousands of Roma expelled from France over the last three years. The policy has come under intense fire across Europe over the last few weeks as the destruction of Roma camps and deportations have been stepped up, and many EU officials have expressed concern that the policy may infringe European human rights law. 

A memo leaked earlier this week from the French Interior Ministry suggests that the deportation of Roma has an explicit racial dimension, giving the lie to Sarkozy’s insistence that the Roma in France are being dealt with on a case-by-case basis in the same way as other illegal immigrants in the country. 

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