When Guinea’s Supreme Court announced the final results of the legislative elections on November 15, 2013, Guineans finally, and quite understandably, breathed a massive sigh of relief. This long-awaited sense of reprieve came after elections took place on September 28th, following numerous postponements, nearly three years of political and social tension, the deaths of dozens of innocent people, and property damage totaling millions of US dollars. While many feel the election results signaled an end to the roller coaster of events that characterized Guinean politics for the last few years, this is certainly not the time for Guineans to kick up their feet and relax.
Reliving the anguish and turmoil of past years is not an option for Guineans. With the next presidential elections taking place in less than two years, two key issues must be resolved now – rather than later – for there to be peaceful and credible elections in 2015. These are the drawing up a voter register and reforming the legal and institutional framework for elections.
Stakeholders must determine whether a new biometric voter register should be drawn up before the 2015 presidential polls, as Article 9 of the July 2013 ‘Agreement on the Preparation and Organization of Legislative Elections seems to suggest. In the best case scenario, the registration process will take at least twelve months to complete, from selection of a technical operator to settling any legal disputes over the register. Political obstacles will inevitably arise during this process, which only reaffirms why immediate planning is imperative.
If nothing else, the September 2013 legislative elections revealed shortcomings in the legal and institutional framework of Guinea’s electoral system, such as a weak Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) and gaps in the Electoral Code and Constitution. Thus, all stakeholders in the electoral process, namely politicians, Parliamentarians and government officials should first – and rapidly – reach a consensus on the nature and depth of necessary electoral reforms. In other words, they must ascertain what can be done, what should be done and what must be done given the available time, political environment and practicality of implementation.
For instance, INEC’s current partisan structure does not instill confidence in politicians nor citizens. Stakeholders need to decide whether there should be a new type of INEC, perhaps one that is purely technical, or an external mechanism with organic functions and composition that would reassure political actors. Alternatively, perhaps the current INEC simply needs to be internally reorganized.
Likewise, for reforming the Constitution and Electoral Code, resolute pragmatism dictates that the choice of reforms should be governed by the imperative to prevent empty political debate from taking precedence over the concrete and practical resolution of this issues, thus taking away from what is and remains essential.
There is a serious lack of trust among the different actors in the electoral process. This also characterized the 2013 legislative elections. Not only must decisions on the previous two issues be made in a clear, open and honest manner, but also all parties must be willing to put aside partisanship to achieve the two-thirds Parliamentary majority needed for the rapid enactment of certain laws. Laws delineating the functions of the Constitutional Court for election-related disputes and the High Communications Authority for regulation of the media would be integral to ensuring fairness during the electoral process, thus boosting the confidence of stakeholders.
Although the primary responsibility falls largely on the government and Parliamentarians, civil society can inform public opinion and guide politicians – who are otherwise too preoccupied with their partisan interests – away from driving the reform process to a stalemate. Beyond conventional technical and financial support, development partners should offer solutions to the aforementioned challenges and help ensure full implementation of the July 2013 Agreement.
Guinea is clearly still finding its way on its path to democracy. The “success” of carrying out legislative elections in 2013 does not mean the government, international community, and civil society are out of the woods. Fundamental reforms must still be made. Only by acting now can stakeholders ensure that they have time to effectively plan and collaborate so that the presidential elections in 2015 stand a far greater chance of success.
Mr. Hounkpe is Political Governance Manager for the Open Society Institute for West Africa, OSIWA. Please follow him on Twitter @Coffi_12