Guinea’s President delays vote on contested referendum

CONAKRY, GUINEA (AP) — Guinea’s president has delayed today’s legislative and constitutional referendum vote for two weeks, citing concerns from international observers.

President Alpha Conde, 81, made the announcement late Friday on state television in the wake of the withdrawal of international election observers by the African Union and regional West African economic bloc because of security concerns.

“It is by national and sub-regional responsibility that we accepted a slight postponement of the date of the elections. It is neither a capitulation, nor a retreat but fidelity to what was the Guinea of yesterday and today,” Conde said.

He clarified that only eligible candidates who registered would be valid for legislative elections.

Guineans were meant to vote today on a controversial constitutional referendum that could extend the President’s rule for at least another decade and lead to deeper political violence and more deadly demonstrations.

Residents were also meant to vote for deputies in parliament.The vote, however, was being boycotted by opposition parties.

“We will oppose by all legal means this referendum,” said member of the coalition of opposition parties and civil society groups National Front for the Defense of the Constitution Sekou Koundouno.

Over 36 people have died in demonstrations against the referendum since October, along with at least one gendarme. Security forces on Thursday were put on high alert to protect against unrest.

The organisation of French-speaking organisations, along with the African Union and economic bloc, ECOWAS, all withdrew poll observation missions, citing security issues.

President Alpha Conde, first elected in 2010, is barred from running for a third term under the constitution, but his supporters said the referendum to the constitution would allow him to run again.

The new constitution would increase presidential terms from five years to six years, and would impose a two term limit. It is unclear if previous terms served would count, but Conde has implied they would not. In February, Conde said if the new constitution is passed his party will decide if he will run.