Africa

Guinea's President Condé postpones controversial referendum

A policemen taking on protesters in neighbourhood of Conakry, Guinea - 27 February 2020 Image copyright AFP
Image caption There have been protests since October against the holding of the referendum

Guinea's president has delayed Sunday's controversial referendum on changing the constitution that if passed could allow him to seek a third term.

Alpha Condé, 81, said the "slight postponement" was because the opposition say officials have tampered with the electoral register.

The announcement comes amid mounting international concern about the fairness of the poll.

There have been months of often violent demonstrations against the vote.

At least 30 people have been killed in the protests since October.

The African Union and the regional bloc, Ecowas, said they were not sending election observers to the mineral-rich West African nation.

An estimated 7.7 million registered votes were also due to elect members of parliament on Sunday.

Earlier this week, the International Organisation of La Francophonie (OIF), a grouping of French-speaking nations, said there were problems identifying around 2.5 million names listed on the electoral roll.

Will the vote go ahead at all?

According to the president, yes. And a letter sent by Mr Condé to Ecowas about the postponement, seen by the AFP news agency, says it should take place within two weeks.

Image copyright Reuters
Image caption The referendum is likely to take place in two weeks' time

"This is not a capitulation or a step backwards. The people of Guinea will express their choice freely at the referendum," President Condé told state TV on Friday evening.

An opposition alliance opposed to the new constitution, the FNDC, has called for a boycott, which would make it likely that a "yes" vote would win.

Does the proposed constitution scrap term limits?

No - a president would still only be able to serve two terms, though the length of a term would be extended from five to six years.

However, the adoption of the new constitution would mean that the time Mr Condé has already served would not count - and his second term comes to an end in December.

Has Mr Condé said he wants to run again?

No, but his party has not denied that the new constitution would allow him to do so. But it says the constitution is about revamping a document written during a time of military rule between 2008 and 2010.

Image copyright AFP
Image caption Alpha Condé was first elected in 2010 after years as a vocal leader of the opposition

"His willingness to change the constitution has nothing to do with his plan to look for a third term," Amadou Damaro Camara, parliamentary leader of the governing Rally of the Guinean People, told the BBC.

"The plan is to provide a better constitution for the Republic of Guinea because the one we have is not good enough."

What else is included in the new constitution?

It has many laws aimed at improving gender equality in the mainly Muslim nation: it would ban female genital mutilation (FGM), as well as outlawing underage and forced marriages.

Image copyright AFP
Image caption Women have demonstrated against what they say has been a heavy handed put down of demonstrations

It also states that no one gender would make up more than two-thirds of government institutions.

But the FNDC argues all such reforms could be done through parliament.

"The main purpose of President Alpha Condé is to maintain himself illegally in power," Nadia Nahman, a spokesperson for the opposition Union of Democratic Forces of Guinea, told the BBC.

"All the innovation we're talking about can be introduced in the constitution by way of revision - why do we need to have a new constitution?"

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