Carter Center Encouraged by Electoral Campaign in Guinea; Urges Steps on Electoral Preparations and Voter Education
June 21, 2010
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
In Atlanta: Deborah Hakes, +1 404 420 5124
In Conakry: John Koogler, +224 68 13 80 82
The Carter Center observation mission in Guinea is encouraged by the positive tone of the electoral campaign in Guinea, including candidates' messages promoting reconciliation and transcending ethnic boundaries, and by the National Electoral Commission's (CENI) commitment to inclusive elections. At the same time, the Center urges CENI to address remaining challenges including ensuring that all voting materials arrive in time for the elections, that polling station staff are adequately trained, and that maximum efforts are taken to extend voter education as widely as possible. In spite of these challenges, the Center is encouraged that all stakeholders are committed to a transparent process and to peaceful acceptance of credible election results. These findings are detailed in the full report below.
The 2010 presidential elections offer the first real opportunity for democratic and openly contested elections since Guinea declared its independence in 1958. There is a palpable sense of excitement and expectation among Guineans, who hope for a meaningful democratic transition and civilian government. While Guinea held elections in 1993, 1998, 2002, and 2003, the 2010 elections represent a landmark in that numerous parties are participating openly and there is no ruling party candidate competing for the presidency.
The Carter Center deployed its core electoral observation team on May 1, with eight long-term election observers joining them on May 23. The Center's long-term observers are reporting from Guinea's four geographic regions of Lower Guinea, Middle Guinea, Upper Guinea, and the Forest region. The Center's long-term observers come from Algeria, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Northern Ireland, South Africa, and the United States. They will be joined by more than 20 short-term observers to monitor voting and counting.
The Carter Center mission is assessing Guinea's electoral process against the Guinean Constitution and the electoral legal framework, commitments made in the January 2010 Ouagadougou Agreement, and Guinea's obligations under regional and international treaties. The Center's observation mission is conducted in accordance with the Declaration of Principles for International Election Observation.
Most of the Guinea's recent history has been marked by dictatorial rule, and the seeds of discontent became increasingly evident in a series of strikes in 2006 and 2007 that culminated in the killing of scores of civilians in January-February 2007. Guinea held nominally democratic presidential elections in 1993, 1998, and 2003, as well as legislative elections in 2002 that were boycotted by the major political parties.
Elections are a central component in the Ouagadougou Agreement, which was signed in January 2010 following the killings of more than 150 civilians by Guinean security forces at a political rally on Sept. 28, 2009. The massacre traumatized Guinean society and catalyzed calls for the return of political accountability and an end to political impunity. As a result, ordinary Guineans have begun talking about politics again, reinvigorated by the possibility of a new beginning in Guinea's post-independence period.
While the logistical challenges surrounding the run-up to the June presidential elections are extremely difficult, the process provides a critical opportunity both to introduce a genuinely democratic political order and also to improve electoral procedures for future elections in Guinea.
Based on the reports of its long-term observers deployed around the country, the Carter Center's mission notes several key findings concerning the pre-election period in Guinea and the prospects for genuine democratic elections on June 27.
Spirit of good faith and reconciliation
The political actors within Guinea have maintained a spirit of trust and good faith throughout the transition period following the Ouagadougou Agreement, with the country led by a government of national unity. The quasi-legislative National Transitional Council (CNT) has remained neutral in its oversight of all electoral processes, and CENI has ensured that preparations for the elections have been conducted in an independent fashion.
While ethnic identity has sometimes been the object of political manipulation in Guinea, the transition period has been marked by concerted efforts of political parties to focus their campaigns on messages promoting national reconciliation and disavowing regional and ethnic interests. A successful conclusion of the process hinges on all the major candidates and party leaders accepting the final results of the elections and managing disappointment among their party supporters.
Political parties and NGOs, both local and international, have played a central role in promoting reconciliation by undertaking civic education programs to promote respect for others as a central tenet of these elections.
It is the responsibility of all states to take specific measures to address difficulties that may prevent people from exercising their electoral rights effectively. Voter education is recognized in international law as an important means of ensuring that an informed electorate is able to effectively exercise their right to vote. In a country that suffers from a high rate of illiteracy and has a variety of local languages, voter education is a challenging task. In Guinea, the focus of early phases of voter education campaigning has been educating voters to accept the final election results. This is a critically important message given the context of conflict and tension surrounding these elections.
While peaceful acceptance of elections results is clearly important, the Center is concerned that there has been too little emphasis on providing citizens with basic voter education, including issues of how to mark ballots so that they are valid and can be counted for the intended candidate. The Carter Center strongly urges all stakeholders to make maximum efforts on voter education throughout the country to ensure that voting day procedures are explained to all levels of society. The CENI has a particularly important role to play in this process.
Electoral preparations, poll-worker training, and domestic observers
The administration of these elections has been difficult due to the extremely condensed timeframe for the preparation of the legal framework. The compressed timeline led to late decisions about electoral and voting procedures and to confusion about the division of roles and responsibilities between different stakeholders. The infrastructural challenges in Guinea compound these issues.
The Center urges CENI to take necessary steps to ensure that all voter material arrives in time for the June 27 election and that polling station staff have been trained to the highest possible standards. Carter Center observers have reported a mobilization effort in Conakry for the training of polling station personnel and domestic observers. As such training efforts continue, the Center encourages CENI to take all necessary steps to ensure trainings are conducted in all regions of Guinea in a timely manner and to the highest possible standard.
Electoral procedures have been established to allow party agents and domestic observers at each polling station and to ensure they are able to observe the voting process and record any concerns for legal scrutiny. The Center commends the inclusion of these safeguards, which if implemented fully and transparently can be critical to preventing and detecting manipulation or other irregularities in the electoral process.
Given the challenges of the compressed electoral calendar and the late development of electoral procedures, it is critically important that all stakeholders are informed about key electoral procedures. While the Center commends CENI and other stakeholders for their efforts to date to provide supplemental information on electoral procedures, the Center urges CENI to address the complaints of local election bodies and to improve channels of communication between the capital and the local authorities in the remaining days before the election.
In spite of the logistical challenges facing electoral preparations in Guinea, the Center is encouraged that all stakeholders are committed to a transparent process and to peaceful acceptance of credible election results. It is important for political parties to follow through on their campaign messages promoting reconciliation and peaceful elections.
The Carter Center offers these observations and recommendations in the spirit of cooperation and respect. The Center wishes to thank the Guinean officials, political party members, civil society members, individuals, and representatives of the international community who have generously offered their time and energy to facilitate the Center's efforts to observe the electoral process.
 Guinea has ratified a number of international treaties with provisions regarding electoral processes, including ECOWAS Protocol on Democracy and Good Governance (ratified in 2004); the African Charter on Human and Peoples' Rights (ratified February 16, 1982) (ACHPR); the International Convention on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR)(ratified January 24, 1978); and the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) (ratified August 9, 1982).
 Specific difficulties include such things as language barriers, poverty, and impediments to the freedom of movement. States must ensure that voter education reaches the broadest possible pool of voters (United Nations Human Rights Committee General Comment 25, para. 11)
 The right to participate in the public affairs of one's country, including the electoral process, are recognized at the regional and international level. See for example, African Charter on Human and Peoples' Rights, art. 13 (1); AU Declaration on the Principles Governing Democratic Elections in Africa, art. 7; and ICCPR, art. 25 (a)
A not-for-profit, nongovernmental organization, The Carter Center has helped to improve life for people in more than 70 countries by resolving conflicts; advancing democracy, human rights, and economic opportunity; preventing diseases; improving mental health care; and teaching farmers in developing nations to increase crop production. The Center has observed 80 elections in 30 countries. The Carter Center was founded in 1982 by former U.S. President Jimmy Carter and his wife, Rosalynn, in partnership with Emory University, to advance peace and health worldwide.