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Guinea postpones presidential vote

By Joe Penney, For CNN
Guinea's interim junta leader General Sekouba Konate gives a speech at the Alpha Yaya military camp in Conakry Wednesday.
Guinea's interim junta leader General Sekouba Konate gives a speech at the Alpha Yaya military camp in Conakry Wednesday.
  • Guinea's presidential runoff had been scheduled for next Sunday
  • The acting president announced a postponement, with no new date set
  • Recent violence has left one person dead and some 50 people injured

Conakry, Guinea (CNN) -- Guinea has postponed its presidential election for the second time, acting President General Sekouba Konate announced on state TV Wednesday evening.

The vote -- a runoff between two candidates -- had been scheduled for Sunday.

The delay has raised concerns about the West African country's ability to end military rule and could raise tensions between supporters of the two candidates -- longtime opposition leader Alpha Conde and former prime minister Cellou Dalein Diallo.

No new date was named.

Konate cited logistical and managerial problems at the Independent National Electoral Commission (CENI) as the main reasons for the delay.

"[The CENI] has just suggested a postponement of the date for the second round of the presidential election, initially planned for September 19th, for technical reasons related to the requirements of the candidates," Konate said.

No candidate won an outright majority in first-round elections held in late June. An initial runoff date of September 2 was delayed due to the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, and the rainy season.

Konate implored all sides to stay calm, and said that the CENI would meet to determine when the election will be, but he did not specify when the meeting would take place.

Both candidates accepted the delay, but Diallo raised concerns over the impasse.

"The situation has not been sufficiently justified and I'm a bit disappointed," Diallo said in a meeting broadcast on national TV.

Conde's RPG party refrained from commenting directly on the second postponement. Moustapha Naite, a spokesman for Conde's campaign, told CNN, "We are waiting for the CENI to correct the mistakes of the first round. The CENI is the one that is organizing the election."

Prime Minister Jean-Marie Dore met with both candidates and members of the election commission in the nation's seaside capital, Conakry, to discuss the situation before the postponement was announced.

Pathy Dieng, a spokesman for election commission, said that the commission had just received the voting lists from all the country's voting stations, and was prevented until now from ordering digital voting cards that would not be ready for distribution by Sunday, according to national TV.

The news that the commission's president, Ben Sekou Sylla, died in Paris while receiving medical treatment for a long-term illness piled pressure on the organization Monday, according to state TV Tuesday. Guinean courts had convicted and sentenced Sylla and CENI's planning director to a year in prison for fraud committed during the first round, in a decision last Thursday.

The conviction sparked weekend violence between youthful factions of the rival candidates, killing one person and wounding 51 others, according to official figures.

Campaigning was suspended by the government in the aftermath of the violence, and campaigning remained suspended Wednesday.

After a challenge of the first-round results by Conde's RPG party, Guinea's supreme court had found several minor voting irregularities in that vote and revised official results slightly but upheld the overall results, with Diallo coming in first and Conde second.

Bordered by Liberia, Ivory Coast, Guinea-Bissau and Sierra Leone -- all of which experienced civil war at some point in the past two decades -- Guinea has long been a beacon of peace in an uncertain region.

But there are worries that the nation's first truly transparent presidential vote with no incumbent candidate -- thus with less of a chance of rigging, according to observers -- is taking on an ethnic dimension, with majority ethnic groups Peuls and Malinke voting for their respective candidates, Diallo and Conde.

Populations of both of these groups live in neighboring countries, and experts are concerned that violence in Guinea would have the potential to spread across porous borders to post-conflict states Liberia and Sierra Leone.

When asked about the threat of ethnic violence in a personal interview with CNN Tuesday,Diallo accused Conde of stoking the situation..

"Unfortunately my adversaries play the ethnicity card: 'Fight against the Peul candidate so that the Peul won't reach power.' They think that since [Peuls] have economic power, they shouldn't have political power," Diallo said.

Mohamed Saliou Camara, a professor of humanities and social sciences at the Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Florida and author of a book on Guinea's independence leader, told CNN in an email correspondence that ethnicity has always played a large role in politics in the country.

"Most of Guinea's current major political parties evolved along ethno-regionalist lines," Camara wrote.

But Michael McGovern, a professor of anthropology at Yale University and specialist on Guinea, told CNN in an email interview that ethnicity alone is not sufficient driving factor for violence in the country.

"The importance of ethnicity certainly increases during elections, in Guinea or anywhere else in the world that I know of, but it is definitely not determinative," McGovern wrote.

"It's worth remembering that Guinea is the only country among its neighbors not to have experienced civil war, despite ample opportunity," McGovern noted.

"It would enable the people of this country to begin healing their wounds rather than dwelling on licking them," Camara remarked.

Guinea is currently ruled by the National Council for Democracy and Development, a military junta that took power after the death of longtime autocrat Lansana Conte in late 2008.

The junta promised elections and named Captain Moussa Dadis Camara president of the transition, but Camara later threatened to contest the election. Government suppression of demonstrations against military rule killed at least people last September, according to rights groups.

In the ensuing uncertainty, Camara's aide-de-camp shot him in the head and Camara was forced to seek medical treatment in Morocco. He remains in convalescence in Burkina Faso.

The current acting president, Konate, has stated his commitment to keeping election promises multiple times.

Earlier Wednesday, Konate congratulated the country's armed forces for their discipline during the uncertainty, and he attended a ground-breaking ceremony for a large infrastructure project, according to state TV.

Guinea, despite its massive mineral wealth in bauxite -- the main ore of aluminum -- has one of the lowest per-capita incomes in the world.