CONAKRY, GUINEA – The Guinean opposition on Saturday rejected the result of a constitutional referendum, which they fear will be used by President Alpha Conde to extend his grip on power.
The proposal to change the constitution was hugely controversial in the West African state, spurring mass demonstrations in which at last 32 people have been killed, according to an AFP tally.
Independent National Electoral Commission president, Amadou Salifou Kebe, told reporters on Friday that 91.59 percent of ballots were in favor of adopting the new constitution, while 8.41 percent were against, following the March 22 plebiscite.
The FNDC, an umbrella opposition group, had called for a boycott of the referendum and rejected the result outright.
“These results mean nothing to the National Front for the Defense of the Constitution (FNDC) or the Guinean people,” said opposition official Ibrahima Diallo.
“Let’s avoid Soviet-style tallies from another time,” another opposition leader, former prime minister Sidya Toure tweeted.
The day of the vote was marred by violence, with scores of polling stations ransacked across the country and, according to the country’s political opposition, dozens were killed.
After the referendum results were announced on Saturday, protesters in Labe, the main city in the north of the country, went out on the streets, torched cars ad set up barricades, witnesses told AFP.
The result may open the way for Conde, 82, to pursue another term in office when his second one runs out this year by bypassing term limits.
A former opposition figure jailed under previous hard-line regimes, Conde made history in 2010 as the first democratically-elected president in a country with a chronic history of military coups and turmoil.
Voters returned him to office in 2015 for his second and final five-year term under the current constitution, but critics say he has become increasingly authoritarian.
The government argues that the constitution needs to be updated to usher in badly-needed social changes, especially for women.
Reforms would include banning female genital mutilation and under-age marriage and giving spouses equal rights in a divorce.
The charter would limit presidential terms to two but extend the length of the term to six years.
However, critics fear that a new constitution would in effect reset the presidential term counter to zero, potentially enabling Conde to govern for another 12 years.
Conde himself has not denied that he might use the proposed changes to seek another term.
The U.S., EU and former colonial power France have all criticized the manner in which the referendum was held, as well as the simultaneous legislative elections.
The FNDC said that given the number of deaths involved — they gave a provisional toll of 66 people in the southern town of N’Zeeekore which was particularly badly hit — that an international enquiry commission should be set up under the auspices of the United Nations.