Guinea’s President Alpha Conde on Friday announced a “slight postponement” of Sunday’s referendum on whether to adopt a new constitution, after months of protests sparked by fears the poll is a ruse to keep him in power
“It is due to our national and regional responsibilities that we have accepted a slight postponement of the date of the elections,” Conde said on national television, announcing that parliamentary elections due to be held over the weekend would be similarly delayed.
“This is not a capitulation or a step backwards” he said, adding that “the people of Guinea will express their choice freely at the referendum and freely choose their deputies,” without fixing any new date.
On Sunday, Guineans were due to vote on adopting a new referendum, in a move the government says is positive because it would enshrine in law bans on female-genital mutilation and underage marriage, among other things.
However, the former French colony has seen huge protests since mid-October over the prospect.
At least 31 people have been killed in the unrest since, according to an AFP tally.
Although both the current constitution and the proposed new text limit presidential terms to two, critics fear that passing a new constitution would reset presidential term limits to zero.
This would potentially allow Conde, 81, to run again when his second term runs out at the end of the year.
Pressure was piling on Conde in recent days after a string of international organisations criticised the handling of the election.
The International Organisation of La Francophonie (OIF), gathering French-speaking states, said this week that it had problems with 2.49 million out of the 7.7 million names on the electoral roll.
They included duplicate registrations and people who had died.
And on Friday, the European Union and the African Union both criticised the planned elections, citing problems with the voter registry.
Conde was a longtime opposition figure who became the nation’s first-ever elected president in 2010 on promises to fight corruption. He was re-elected in 2015.
Critics have accused him of drifting into authoritarianism.