European traders settled on the coast of Guinea in the 1600s, and the French military laid claim to Guinea in the 19th century after defeating tribal chieftains in the region. Guinea became a colony in 1891, though French forces took until 1898 to consolidate the interior of the country.
Ahmed Sékou Touré led Guinea to independence at the head of the Democratic Party of Guinea (PDG), which he founded in 1947. In 1958 Guinea rejected joining the French African community, and on being granted independence in October 1958, it severed all links with France. Touré set up a Marxist state with a 1-party dictatorship; it is known as the First Republic. Touré's regime quickly became oppressive and totalitarian, and by the time of his death in 1984, about 1 million Guineans lived abroad, while the ruling party enjoyed no popular support. On Sékou Touré's death in 1984, the military seized power, led by Lansana Conté.
Lansana Conté has dominated the political scene in Guinea since 1984. He directed the economy away from socialism . Under Conté, the military government sought to decrease the size of the public sector and increase private ownership and investment in a program of sweeping economic changes. Conté invited prominent exiles back into government. However, Conté's early years retained the pattern of eliminating opponents and engaging in frequent coups, along with regularly changing the cabinet.
In 1989, Conté paved the way for democratic political institutions. The Third Republic began in 1991 with the adoption of a new constitution, under which the president is elected to a 5-year term by popular vote. Conté and the PUP have dominated the New Republic, winning all elections by large majorities. However, questions about how the elections were conducted led to controversy. In February 1996 a group of officers opposed to Conté's regime tried to seize power. Conté was held for some hours until he agreed to certain concessions, including doubling army salaries and conferring amnesty on those involved in the mutiny. In 1998 the presidential election was marred by the arrest of the main opposition party leader, Alpha Condé, on charges of trying to overthrow the government. Local elections in 2000 brought a landslide victory for the PUP and widespread condemnation of how the elections were held.
Cabinet reshuffles have followed every election and the 1996 mutiny. The 1996 mutiny also led to budgetary problems and the cessation of IMF support. Following the mutiny political appointees were replaced with technocrats , and the prime minister became head of government. Prime Minister Sidya Touré, who had restored donor relations, was replaced by Lamine Sidime in March 1999.
Guinea has 40 registered political parties, with 9 being represented in parliament. The PUP has its stronghold in the Soussou-speaking coastal areas, although through patronage, it holds influence in most towns as well. Most other parties have strong regional support, but little else. The main opposition to PUP comes from its own reformers and the traditional political elite.
The 1982 constitution, which was suspended in 1984, was replaced in 1991 by the "Loi Fondamentale." The president is elected by universal suffrage and serves a renewable 5-year term. The president appoints the Council of Ministers to share executive power. Their decisions are subject to approval by the Legislative Assembly, though opposition from the Legislative Assembly may be overruled by decree.
The 114-member People's National Assembly is elected in a complicated way. One-third of the parliament is elected by a simple majority, and two-thirds by proportional representation . The legal system in Guinea is based on French civil law, but with local additions, and may be modified by decree. Guinea was originally supported by the Soviet bloc, but in 1975 Guinea's attitudes changed with the signing of the Lomé Convention (a European Union aid scheme), joining the Economic Union of West African States (ECOWAS), and repairing strained relations with the West, particularly France. Conté has politically realigned the state and has now fully restored Western ties. He is active regionally, and his troops often skirmish with neighbors, as political unrest in Guinea-Bissau, Liberia, and Sierra Leone have created refugees and rebel groups that operate across Guinea's borders.
Mining revenue accounts for 20 percent of government income (including taxes, royalties, and export duties ), but this figure has fallen with falling world prices since 1987. Guinea has also significantly widened its tax net on incomes and profits, goods and services, and trade; in fact, this source of revenue has multiplied tenfold from 1989 to 1999, though this amount has not been enough to offset the reductions in mining revenue and the increased state wage bill. Overall government expenditures have been reduced since 1991, though not enough to consistently balance the budget.