Opposition parties in Guinea are alleging there was cheating in Sunday's local election, viewed by many as a litmus test for foreign donors to increase aid.
Complaints from opposition leaders have started pouring in, according to journalist Pauline Bax, who visited counting centers and opposition party headquarters in the capital Conakry.
"They say there were ballot boxes found that were not supposed to be there, so there were actually more ballot boxes than actually were allowed in the vote," said Mrs. Bax. "And then this morning, I spoke to this opposition lady who wants to be one of the five mayors of Conakry, and she also said there was massive vote rigging and that ballot boxes were stuffed with fake [ballots], basically."
There were also allegations that in ruling party strongholds some people voted several times, and that there was at least one phantom polling station to add to the tally of ruling party candidates.
Before the vote, opposition parties also alleged some of their candidates were prevented from running, and that many residents of opposition areas were unable to get their names on voting lists.
The voting Sunday to select 38 mayors and over 300 rural councils took place peacefully throughout Guinea. This was the first time in five years opposition parties were taking part in elections, after boycotting previous polls saying they had no chance against fraud.
Mrs. Bax said there was a mixed feeling in Conakry both during and after voting. "Some neighborhoods were quite enthusiastic about the vote, and some neighborhoods were completely apathetic about it," she said. "But I think all in all, there is very little enthusiasm about the vote and not many people believe it's going to change anything. On the other hand, some people were happy that the voting bureaus worked fine and in order, so it might have restored a little bit of confidence for elections in general in Guinea."
Government officials denied there was any wrongdoing, and said the opposition should await results due this week. Foreign observers are investigating the opposition claims.
Foreign donors have said they will give more aid if mineral-rich but impoverished Guinea makes democratic progress. The elections come amid soaring prices for basic goods, apparent divisions within the army, periodic students protests, and decaying infrastructure.
Land lines do not work anymore, cell phones hardly work either, and access to running water and electricity is getting less and less frequent. President Lansana Conte has been in power since a coup in 1984 and recently changed the constitution to gain another term.