Guinea President Alpha Conde suggested publicly for the first time he could run for a third term if the national constitution is changed, a move likely to fuel unrest as the country tries to attract foreign investment to exploit its mineral wealth.
Guineans vote on Sunday in a referendum on constitutional reforms that could allow Conde to stand again and the prospect of him staying in office has led to months of sometimes violent protests.
Opponents believe Conde, Guinea’s first democratically elected leader in 2010 is increasingly authoritarian and will follow other African leaders in extending their rule through political machinations.
Conde told le Figaro newspaper the 2010 constitution was bad and needed modernising.
“The Guinean people will ask: Is it the first time a president changes the constitution to do a third or fourth term? Why would it be impossible in Guinea to do three mandates?” he said in an interview published on Wednesday.
In other African countries, leaders used a constitution change as an excuse to reset term limits.
“It’s only Guinea that is criticised. Some countries change constitutions four or five times without being criticised,” Conde said, using Chadian President Idriss Deby as an example.
Western and Chinese businesses are keeping an eye on events.
The West African nation is rich with natural resources including the world’s largest bauxite reserves, gold, diamonds and iron ore.
Investments stalled due to political instability and a lack of infrastructure and that most of its 13 million people live in poverty.
Conde’s first election victory in 2010 raised hopes for democratic progress in the former French colony after two years of military rule and nearly a quarter of a century under authoritarian President Lansana Conte, who died in 2008.
Conde critics accuse him of cracking down on dissent and violently repressing protests – charges he denies. He asked his government last year to draft a new constitution permitting him to run for office again.
The Paris-based group of French-speaking countries, the Organisation internationale de la Francophone, due to monitor Sunday’s vote, has suspended its support of the ballot.
It questioned the credibility of the vote due to 2.49 million “problematic” entries on the electoral register.
It called on Guinean authorities “to act quickly to avoid further loss of life and stop any risk of escalation to violence”.
Conde was surprised by the organisation’s reaction and accused the opposition of calling for violence and hiring young people to throw stones.
“We will do everything to maintain the calm and ensure the population can vote,” Conde said.