Voters in Guinea head to the polls on Sunday in a constitutional referendum that many see as a move by President Alpha Condé to hold onto power.
The 82-year-old was elected in 2010, re-elected in 2015, but critics say he has become increasingly authoritarian. Condé has promoted the referendum as a “democratic exercise” and a vote for gender equality and social reform. But it would also reset presidential term limits.
If passed, the new law would still limit the head of state to two terms in office, with each term prolonged from five to six years. But by resetting the term limits, Condé would be able to add another 12 years to his reign, when he would be 94 years of age.
Condé has not denied he will seek a new term if the referendum passes. The president says he wants to “convince the international community he is open to criticism” but will seek a new term anyway, says Sidya Toure, the head of the opposition Union of Republican Forces (UFR) party.
According to AFP, at least 32 people have been killed, including a gendarme, since Guineans began marching in the streets last October to protest the referendum.
A delayed vote due to possible fraud Condé postponed the original 1 March date of the referendum and parliamentary polls after discrepancies with 2.5 million names on the voter roll.
Experts from the regional body Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) recommended expunging those voter names due to lack of proper identification. “It’s an electoral masquerade,” said Cellou Diallo, former prime minister and head of the United Democratic Forces of Guinea (UFDG), the leading opposition party.
He said that scrubbing the electoral roll had not been transparent and that the roll did not reflect the actual voters in the country.
His party, along with several other larger opposition groups, have announced they are boycotting the referendum and parliamentary election. An additional worry is that the polls could facilitate the spread of coronavirus, with the first two cases reported in the country.