After initial results declared Ibrahim Boubacar Keita the front-runner of Mali’s presidential election last Sunday July 28, 2013 with 39.2 percent of the vote, the government announced today the election will go to a second round on August 11. As former Prime Minister, Mr. Keita is not a new face to Malian politics. However, Mali’s electoral system requires a candidate to win at least 50% of the vote or face a run-off vote.
According to Radio France International, Soumaïla Cissé trailed Keita with 19.4 percent of the vote and Dramane Dembélé received 9.6 percent. (To find out more about the candidates, please see Mali-focused blogger Bruce Whitehouse’s Word document outlining their profiles.)
The majority of Western media heralded the elections as a relative success. John Campbell of the Council for Foreign Relations noted most of the Western media as “upbeat in tone [despite] worms of doubt [about the inclusiveness of the process]”
As noted previously on this blog, analysts voiced strong doubts that Mali would be able to register all voters at polling stations and distribute the new biometric identity cards in time for elections. Thus, the fact that Malian government and election observers maintain that a large part of the Malian populace was able to vote is significant.
APEM, a network of 2,100 Malian election observers, asserted that “96 percent of polling stations had opened on time” and that turnout was high, around 53 percent. CS Monitor also reported that 85 percent of voter ID cards were distributed.
Causes for concern
Despite these findings, many note concern over irregularities, including intimidation by the army and interference by religious authorities. IPS asserts almost two million extra biometric voters’ cards were not distributed on time.
Additionally, blogger Alex Thurston notes that two of the most contentious challenges in the election remain unresolved: how to include the refugees who fled the war in the north and how to include northern Mali, where it appears the process did not go smoothly. Conflict zones in the north were reported to be “off-limits to the 27 presidential candidates and ballot workers.” And additional reports reveal extremely low voter turnout in contested regions such as Kidal.
Refugee participation also appeared to be very low with reports indicating they faced significant disenfranchisement. Many Tuareg and Arab refugees claim they did not receive voter ID cards. Out of the estimated 71,000 refugees in the camp, only 11,000 were reportedly registered.
Despite these various humanitarian causes for concern, European, Malian and U.S. government representatives expressed praise for the election process.
The U.S. government called it “transparent [and] inclusive” and urged contestants to resolve disputes in the legal system.
French President Francois Hollande announced, “This election confirms Mali’s return to constitutional order after the victory won over the terrorists and the liberation of the territory.” French Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault went a step further, connecting the election with the French military intervention:
“For France, it is a great success… Our international partners have hailed our courage and coherence because France in no way wanted to do anything reflecting the militarism and paternalism of the past, but on the contrary to give Africa and in this case Mali every chance to become a democratic independent nation, in charge of its own development.”
Catherine Ashton, the EU’s foreign policy chief, praised the elections, saying: “Despite the difficult conditions, the Malian administration showed its determination to guarantee the transparency and the credibility of the elections.”
In a separate article, RFI noted Mali interim president, Dioncounda Traoré said, “I think that this is the best election that Malians can remember since 1960.”
The stakes in these elections are high. European donors promised $4.22 billion in aid should Mali adhere to its commitment of holding elections on July 28.
Senator Christopher Coons, chairman of the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Subcommittee on Africa, has similarly gone on the record saying the U.S. would renew its direct support for the Malian military after “full restoration of democracy.”