* Election commission needs help for second round
* Fraud allegations could spark trouble
* Guinea draws billions of dollars of mining investment
By Saliou Samb
CONAKRY, Sept 2 (Reuters) - A dispute over arrangements for the decisive second round of Guinea’s Sept. 19 presidential election is raising concern that the outcome of the landmark poll will be challenged and could trigger unrest.
The vote is intended to give military-ruled Guinea its first freely chosen leader and usher in an era of political stability in a country which hosts several billion-dollar mining projects and is a focal point for stability in West Africa.
The independent electoral commission (CENI), backed by cash from international donors including the United States and France, ran the first round in June. Voting was peaceful but the count was delayed by logistical problems and some local results were invalidated after irregularities surfaced.
Ex-prime minister Cellou Dalein Diallo, who polled highest in the first round but failed to win an outright majority, faces veteran opposition leader Alpha Conde in the run-off.
“We saw the limits of what CENI can do in the first round,” said caretaker Prime Minister Jean-Marie Dore, whose government is charged with organising the elections. “We can’t take the risk of seeing the same thing happen in the second round.”
Dore suggested last month that CENI was short of the skills and resources needed to run the poll properly and proposed bringing in the interior ministry (MATAP) to help, but that call raised concerns in Diallo’s UFDG party.
“For us it is out of the question to issue new rules between the two rounds,” said UFDG spokesman Ibrahima Diallo, suggesting some form of joint CENI-MATAP management would be possible.
Conde’s RPG backs the idea and wants a decree clarifying the roles of the CENI and MATAM in the process.
“We need an unchallenged election which gives incontestable results,” said RPG spokesman Moustapha Naite.
Lydie Boka of risk consultancy StrategiCo said Diallo’s first-round score of 43.69 percent made him the strong favourite over Conde, who secured just 18.25 percent, but warned that the outcome would be challenged whoever won.
“Diallo should win, he is too far ahead. If for some reason he does not, then trouble is to be expected,” said Boka.
“Conde will naturally contest the results, arguing that thanks to alliances with other parties, he managed to bridge the gap of the first round. Fraud will also be mentioned as a reason for winning or losing.”
The stakes extend beyond Guinea’s borders.
First-round results suggested Diallo and Conde both drew much of their support from their own ethnic groups — Peul and Malinke respectively — and any ethnically linked political violence could lead to a refugee rush with which neighbours Liberia and Sierra Leone are far too fragile to cope.
The conduct of the election in Guinea could also set the tone for polls across the region — notably in Ivory Coast where a long-delayed poll is due on Oct. 31.
If Guinea can stage peaceful and transparent elections, analysts and diplomats say, then Ivory Coast — a much richer country — has no excuse for being unable to do the same.
Just as important as the logistics of the vote will be the reaction of the losing candidate. Observers say Guinea, which has had nothing but strongarm rulers since independence from France in 1958, is still new to the challenges of democracy.
“The leaders have to find a way to explain to their supporters that an election can be lost as well as won,” said an election scrutineer with the US-based Carter Centre, speaking on condition of anonymity. “More than anything else, they have to avoid manipulation which could destabilise the country.”
For a FACTBOX on political risks to watch in Guinea, click on [ID:nRISKGN].
Additional reporting and writing by Daniel Magnowski in Dakar; editing by Tim Pearce