Guinea's Condé faces longtime rival Diallo as country heads to the polls
Guineans cast ballots for a president on Sunday, with the 82-year-old incumbent Alpha Condé facing his longtime rival Cellou Dalein Diallo for a third time.
Canvassing in the West African state ended Friday at midnight, capping a tense political campaign marked by insults traded between President Alpha Condé and his leading rival.
After decades as an opposition activist, Condé became Guinea's first democratically-elected president in 2010 and won re-election in 2015.
He pushed through a new constitution in March, arguing that it would modernise the country. But the move also controversially allowed him to bypass a two-term limit for presidents.
Rights groups have become increasingly critical of the president, accusing him of veering towards authoritarianism.
Diallo, 68, now Guinea's leading opposition politician, was formerly a prime minister under authoritarian leader Lansana Conté.
Sporadic clashes between their supporters have broken out across Guinea in recent days, sparking fears of further violence on polling day.
'Retire with dignity'
Kabinet Fofana, a Guinean political scientist, cast the election as a battle between Condé promoting his record in office, and his opponent arguing for change after a decade of his rule.
"This election will play out for Alpha Condé on (his ability) to promote his public policies," Fofana said.
But Condé's advanced age will weigh on voters' minds, according to Fofana.
Diallo raised the issue several times during the campaign, even encouraging Condé to "retire with dignity".
The sharpy-dressed president has brushed off the gibes, however, and conducted a vigorous helicopter tour of the country.
Condé spent decades as an opposition activist, and was even sentenced to death in absentia by a former autocrat, before finally ascending to power in 2010.
He beat Diallo to the presidency then, and pulled off the feat again when he was re-elected in 2015.
Among other things, Condé promised to boost the economy of the nation of some 13 million people and to increase Guinea's lamentable electricity access.
He has stuck to a similar script during this year's campaign, pledging to make Guinea "Africa's second (economic) power after Nigeria".
But Diallo — a self-described technocrat — has criticised Condé's "catastrophic record" and took to pointing at his watch while campaigning, symbolising that the octogenarian's time has run out.
String of West African polls
Guineans interviewed by AFP expressed deep frustrations about the state of the country, regardless of their political colours.
The former French colony is rich in minerals such as bauxite, iron and gold, and has abundant fresh-water resources. However it remains one of the poorest countries in the world.
Guinea's poll on Sunday is due to resonate outside its borders.
The vote is the first in a string of elections scheduled across West Africa, including in Ivory Coast, Burkina Faso, Ghana and Niger.
Some of the major issues in these elections bear a striking semblance to the political debate in Guinea.
In Ivory Coast, for example, incumbent President Alassane Ouattara is running for a third presidential term after having revised the country's constitution. The October 31 vote will also take place in a highly tense atmosphere.
Some 5.4 million registered voters in Guinea are due to cast their ballots on Sunday, and initial results are expected to be announced several days afterwards.
A second round is scheduled for November 24.
(FRANCE 24 with AFP)
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