- The FNDC said security forces “carried out massive arrests blindly, cruelly molested and killed at least 10 people.”
- Despite the coronavirus threat and the opposition boycott, the country went ahead and held the constitutional referendum.
- Critics have questioned the fairness of the Sunday polls, and have said Conde's real motive is to extend his stay in power.
At least 10 people are said to have been killed in clashes between police and protesters during a bitterly contested referendum in Guinea on Sunday, opposition activists said. The National Front for the Defense of the Constitution (FNDC) accused security forces of firing on anti-government protesters.
In a statement, the FNDC said security forces “carried out massive arrests blindly, cruelly molested and killed at least 10 people.” However, the official death toll from the government is two. Critics have said that referendum was a ploy by President Alpha Condé to stay in power.
Despite the coronavirus threat and the opposition boycott, the country went ahead and held the constitutional referendum. The opposition heeded a call to disrupt the referendum and the simultaneous legislative elections. They attacked several polling stations in the capital, Conakry, delaying the start of polling in some districts. The security forces responded swiftly and tried to contain the unrest.
Guinea has recorded two cases of COVID-19. Some of the polling stations required voters to wash their hands before casting their votes. The radio stations reminded citizens to keep their distance from one another.
“Even if people are aware, that won’t stop those who want to come out and vote. I’m trying not to stand too close to others because you never know,” said Ndeye Toure, a 26-year-old student, after voting. Despite the glaring risk of the coronavirus, some polling stations had a large turnout of voters, which meant that crowds squeezed in line so as to vote. Only a few people wore masks.
Critics have questioned the fairness of the Sunday polls, which took place amidst mounting concern about the spread of the virus. Many felt that the authorities were more interested in their electoral campaigns than keeping the country safe from the pandemic. The confirmation of the coronavirus in the country last week had raised speculations that the polls could be delayed, but the authorities maintained their schedule despite having banned large gatherings so as to prevent the spread of the disease.
The referendum, originally scheduled for March 1, was postponed after international observers raised concerns about the electoral register. Alpha Conde, the first democratically elected president in the West African country, is proposing a change in the constitution to codify gender equality and introduce other social reforms.
His opponents are afraid of this move, saying that his real motive is to reset presidential term limits which would allow him run for presidency again. Conde, 82, has been in power since 2010.
The new constitution proposes a limit of two six-year terms up from the current two five-year terms. It does not specify whether the terms served under the current constitution would count. Since October, Guineans have protested en masse against the possibility of Conde extending his grip on power. Since then, at least thirty people have died in protests against the proposed changes.