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Sunday, 11 November, 2001, 04:21 GMT
Analysis: Guinea's crucial referendum
Members of the Guinean armed forces
The presidents support lies in the military
By Alhassan Sillah in Conakry

Guinea is voting on Sunday in a constitutional referendum on whether to prolong the mandate of current head of state, General Lansana Conte.

If passed, the amendment would allow President Conte to run for a third term in office, and extend the presidential term from five to seven years,

But the move has been fraught with controversy. There has been strong opposition, from the Speaker of the National Assembly, El Hadj Bubacarr Biro Diallo.

"The legislature should be involved in any major constitutional change," he said.

President Conte has been in power for 17 years. He came to power in a bloodless coup in 1984 following the death of the country's first head of state, Ahmed Sekou Toure.

Term limits

In 1992, when the new multi-party constitution was ushered in, it limited any head of state to not more than two terms of five years in office.

The president's current term is due to end in 2003.

Prof Alpha Conde
Conde: Disunity in opposition ranks is their downfall
The referendum was announced during independence day celebrations on 2 October.

The opposition remains clearly incensed by the move, and insiders within the president's Party for Unity and Progress say would-be successors are hatching plans.

But it is the opposition alliance, the Co-ordination for Democracy (Codem), that has taken the lead in opposing the plan.

Personality split

The opposition appears to be operating under one umbrella but there are divisions.

Ba Mamadou, Codem's chairman in 1998 merged his political party, the Union for Progress and Renewal with that of his Foulah tribesman and compatriot, Siradiou Diallo.

In the presidential elections of that year, Mr Mamadou allowed Mr Diallo to run as presidential candidate for their merged party because of his age.

The constitution in force at that time barred Mr Mamadou from standing.

But when a constitutional change was made by parliament earlier in the year that removed the age limit on presidential candidates, the relationship between the two men and their supporters became strained.

What was thus considered as the largest opposition bloc to Mr Conte, at least in terms of ethnic strength, became lost through a split between the two men, which is still growing.

Tax-free concessions

The Foulah ethnic tribesmen are also the leading commercial traders in the country.

President Lansana Conteh
Conte has been in power for 17 years
President Conte has lost no time in taking advantage of the turmoil in the Foulah ethnic ranks, by giving tax-free concessions to key importers.

Many of the key businessmen who would normally have supported the opposition cause financially, now find themselves in Mr Conte's camp.

But perhaps the country's best alternative for a change would have been in the celebrated opposition politician, Prof Alpha Conde, leader of the Rally for the Guinean People.

He was released from jail a few months ago following his conviction for treason in the wake of the 1998 presidential election.

Unknown candidate

But even by the admission of his own supporters, Mr Conde lacks grassroots support not because he is not liked, but simply because he is not well known.

Many of his supporters have either only seen his photograph or his image on television.

He spends most of his time overseas, and comes home only at election time - a strategy that is not conducive to African politics.

With Prof Conde lacking these vital political ingredients, it would seem that Guineans' yearning for some intellectual leadership would have to wait for sometime.

Supporters of ruling party
Ruling party supporters would be happy to see their man get his way
It seems the division within the opposition has also denied it the use of some of its well known "bandits" or "area boys".

They have shied away from carrying out any sustained protests against the regime and its referendum.

With the opposition is some disarray and with the total support for him by the security forces, President Conte appears set to organise and win his referendum.

And so Guinea and the rest of Africa is facing the first successful third-term presidential bid in post one-party Africa.

See also:

04 Jun 01 | Africa
Leone-Guinea highway 'to re-open'
21 Sep 01 | Africa
Flood misery in Guinea
15 Sep 00 | Africa
Guinea: Crisis long in the making
12 Sep 00 | Africa
Guinea's opposition leader jailed
25 Jul 01 | Africa
Timeline: Guinea
07 Sep 01 | Country profiles
Country profile: Guinea
01 Nov 01 | Africa
Crackdown on Guinea opposition
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