In a strong show of unity, Guinea’s opposition has called on ailing President Lansana Conte to step aside in favour of a government of national unity.
At a press conference held on Saturday, leaders of the opposition coalition Republican Front for Democratic Change (FRAD) claimed the president’s immediate departure was necessary to stem the country’s feared slide into chaos.
“You have become a brake, an obstacle to Guinea’s development,” said Jean-Marie Dore of the Union for Guinean Progress (UPG), in a statement addressed to the head of state.
“You are not what the country needs. You are sick. You must make the wise decision to leave now before others make it for you.”
The seven-party FRAD also includes groups headed by former prime minister Sidya Toure and Alpha Conde, a popular leader who spent two years in prison for allegedly plotting the president’s overthrow during the 1998 election campaign.
With representatives of the European Union, Japan and Canada present, the coalition affirmed its commitment to finding a peaceful solution to the country’s current economic and political crisis.
The proposed transitional government would incorporate representatives of political parties, civil society, and the military before holding transparent elections to determine Conte’s successor.
There was no mention, however, of the steps by which the FRAD would implement its plans.
Speaking to IRIN, Elhadj Amadou Bailo Diallo, the secretary general of the ministry in charge of the electoral process, accused the opposition of playing political games. He said they aimed to persuade international donors to withhold aid, but cautioned that economic paralysis would harm the general population rather than the president.
According to diplomatic sources, Guinea’s opposition has been hard-pressed to sell itself as a viable alternative because of divisions along personal and ethnic lines.
These divisions were highlighted most recently in July when Conde, after returning from a self-imposed exile, broke ranks with his coalition partners by announcing his party would boycott municipal elections scheduled for later this year.
Saturday’s statement however suggested all parties were onside to contest the municipal election, pending the establishment of an independent electoral commission.
The local election is seen as a first step towards democracy in Guinea. But the lack of a strong opposition or a clear successor within the president’s own party have had some observers worried about the prospect of a dangerous power vacuum.
The 71-year-old Conte, no longer able to walk unassisted, has held power since staging a military coup in 1984. Although he has allowed opposition parties since 1992, the actions of political groups and independent media remain severely restricted. Conte won his latest seven-year term in December 2003, claiming 95% of the vote in elections that were boycotted by the major opposition parties.
The Brussels-based International Crisis Group (ICG) is concerned that should Conte fail to serve out his term, the likelihood of a military coup would be great.
In its June report, ICG stressed the need for both the country’s politicians and the international community to focus less on Conte and more on necessary electoral reforms and the limiting of presidential power.
As the climate of uncertainty drags on, sky-high inflation and the withholding of donor aid are making life increasingly difficult for the average person in a country already known for its poverty and corruption.