Guinea referendum


Despite the coronavirus threat and an opposition boycott, a constitutional referendum was held in Guinea on Sunday which opponents of President Alpha Conde fear could allow him to govern for another 12 years.

Opposition supporters heeding a call to disrupt the referendum and simultaneous legislative election attacked polling stations in Conakry, delaying voting in some districts.

At least two people died in the unrest and staff at a polling station were kidnapped, the security ministry said in a televised statement. It also reported a failed attempt to blow up a vehicle.

The opposition boycott all but ensures a new basic law will be approved when results are announced, despite the risk it could trigger wider unrest that would, along with the coronavirus, threaten Guinea’s mining economy.

With the first two cases of the COVID-19 disease recorded, some polling stations required voters to wash hands before casting ballots and radio stations reminded citizens to keep their distance from one another.

“Even if people are aware, it won’t stop those who want to vote. I’m trying not to stand too close to others because you never know,” said 26-year-old student Ndeye Toure after voting.

At some polling stations, a large turnout saw crowds squeezed in queues to vote, according to a Reuters witness.

Conde (81) refused to rule out using a new constitution as a reset button on his mandate, which expires in December, citing other African countries as examples of where leaders extended their rule.

The referendum, originally scheduled for March 1, was postponed because international observers raised concerns about the electoral register.

Confirmation of coronavirus in the country last week raised speculation polls could be further delayed, but authorities stuck to the schedule despite banning large gatherings to prevent the spread of the disease.

The new constitution would impose a limit of two six-year terms, up from the current two five-year terms. It does not specify whether terms served under the previous constitution would count.  Conde suggests they would not.