CONAKRY, Guinea (AP) — Voters waited in long lines and a special security force patrolled in all-terrain vehicles on Saturday as Guinea voted in hotly contested legislative elections that have sparked fears of violence in the West African nation.
Saturday’s vote, delayed several times and already marred by deadly pre-election protests over how it will be conducted, is intended to complete a rocky transition to democracy that began with the election of President Alpha Conde in 2010.
But by early afternoon the main opposition leader and the European Union observer mission were citing flaws with the process, even as the government declared the poll to be a success.
Opposition leader Cellou Dalein Diallo, voting at a polling station near his home in Conakry’s Dixinn neighborhood, accused the national electoral commission of organizing “a chaotic election.”
“I’m frustrated to note that the commission didn’t correct any of the problems it was supposed to fix,” Diallo said. “There is no ink in many of the polling stations. We have polling stations that don’t have voting materials or election officials. It’s a chaotic election and we are going to protest when the time comes.”
The head of the European Union’s monitoring team, Christian Preda, echoed and elaborated on these concerns in a radio interview.
“We have information that at a significant number of voting bureaus there is no indelible ink,” Preda said. “In certain regions it is difficult to send in relevant materials, including ballots. And we know some voters are prevented from expressing their will at the ballot box because voting stations are placed several kilometers away.”
Many voting stations opened up to one hour late, contributing to “agitation,” said Preda.
In the capital, Conakry, voting was largely peaceful and long lines of voters turned out in both pro-government and pro-opposition neighborhoods. However, angry voters in the city’s Matoto neighborhood ransacked a polling station after election workers failed to show up more than two hours after the scheduled starting time.
Guinea suffered under dictatorship and strongman rule until its first democratic presidential election in 2010. Though observers deemed that vote to be largely transparent, it showcased a deep rift between Guinea’s Malinke and Peul ethnic groups, each of which represents about 40 percent of the population. Voters overwhelmingly backed politicians from their own groups — the Malinke supported Conde while the Peul backed Diallo.
Guinea has not had a legislative election since 2002, and repeated delays over the years have been accompanied by periodic violent protests, sometimes resulting in multiple deaths.
The most recent unrest came earlier this week when campaign clashes in several areas of Conakry killed a police trainee and wounded 50 people. On Wednesday, a weekly French newspaper reported having seen American and French intelligence documents warning about attempts to destabilize Conde’s government, further rattling Conakry residents.
On Saturday, Conde voted under heavy protection from security forces and did not address the media, though he did issue a statement on state television. “With these elections, Guinea is moving forward,” he said.
Government spokesman Damantang Albert Camara said the process was “a success” and “a great relief” for the country.
“The participation is very strong, and security and discipline have prevailed,” he said.
Throughout the day, officers belonging to a special elections-related security force patrolled in four-wheel-drive vehicles.
Saturday’s vote had originally been scheduled to take place last Tuesday but was pushed back by four days to address concerns raised by the opposition about voter rolls and other issues. It is now taking place on the four-year anniversary of Guinea’s notorious stadium massacre, an episode that killed at least 150 people and saw widespread rapes.
Although charges related to the massacre have recently been brought against suspects including high-ranking military officers, Human Rights Watch on Friday accused the government of lending insufficient support to the investigation.
Many observers expressed concern about the possibility for violence either on voting day or as results came in, though the vote was also not expected to deliver an outright win for either the ruling party or the opposition.
“Effective coalition-building will be vital in the immediate period following the election, given that no single party — including the ruling Rally of the Guinean People — is expected to achieve an overall majority,” said Sian Bradley, senior Africa analyst at the risk analysis firm Maplecroft.
Around 5 million voters are registered to pick 114 representatives. Polls were due to close Saturday at 6 p.m., and preliminary results are expected Tuesday.
Associated Press writer Robbie Corey-Boulet contributed to this report from Dakar, Senegal.