On July 28, Malians will head to the polls for the first time since a military coup in March 2012 ended the presidency of Amadou Toumani Touré. In the wake of suspected government corruption and poor governance, interim-President Dioncounda Traoré has managed an unsteady political environment that has been further complicated by a rebellion in the north.
Three government election bodies have put forth an expedited electoral calendar to ensure that the country quickly moves beyond the transition period. Once viewed as an example of democratic practices, Mali now enters an election cycle to which many citizens have pinned their hopes for stability and an end to hostilities in the north.
Political Environment and Challenges
Until recently, Mali was considered an African success story, having previously held four rounds of democratic elections. The country lost this standing when, just weeks before a scheduled presidential election, a military junta led by Captain Amadou Sanogo deposed then-President Touré in March 2012. Mali’s northern territory slipped into violence after a Tuareg separatist movement was joined by Islamic jihadists in launching deadly attacks in the country’s northern regions. In a matter of weeks, Mali’s security sector collapsed, creating a vacuum that allowed the rebels to take control of vast expanses of territory in the north. At the urging of the international community, a civilian transitional government was established in April 2012. Led by interim-President Traoré and interim-Prime Minister Cheick Modibo Diarra, the government was issued a one-year mandate by the Economic Community of West African States
(ECOWAS) and tasked with naming a government of national unity and holding national elections.
In early January 2013, the French military officially intervened in the conflict under “Operation Serval” and within weeks re-captured the strategic rebel-held towns of Gao, Timbuktu and later Kidal.
The main rebel group in the north remains the MNLA (Mouvement National pour la Libération de l’Azawad), which represents a small number of the minority Tuareg ethnic group, and continues to call for the independence of the north and currently claims the city of Kidal as its base of operations. Despite not being representative of most Tuareg political leanings, the MNLA has garnered a great deal of media exposure. In recent months, regular clashes have occurred between the MNLA and government forces that have forced the Malian army to take a stronger stance in Kidal and other northern cities.
The French and American governments supported negotiations between the government and rebel group MNLA, which were led by Burkinabe President Compaoré in neighbouring Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso. The “Ouagadougou Agreement” was signed on June 18, 2013. While many issues were settled in this pact, implementation will be a major challenge due to lingering disagreement over disarmament of the rebels and their integration into government-controlled security forces. In addition, Malian government representatives have not returned to their posts in the north, thereby preventing any formal election preparations for the region.
The process of re-establishing stability and democratic rule in Mali continued when the Malian interim government published a transition roadmap that emphasized two main priorities: maintaining control over northern territories and the organization of free and fair elections. Mali’s parliament unanimously adopted the roadmap in January 2013. The following month, government officials initially said that both presidential and legislative elections would be held in July 2013. The date for the presidential election was later confirmed when interim-President Traoré publically announced that the presidential election would be held on July 28, 2013. The date for parliamentary elections has yet to be announced.
Despite the limited timeframe for planning and on-going hostilities in Mali’s northern region, three government agencies have been tasked with organizing the presidential election. The Ministry of Territorial Administration and Decentralization is charged with logistics and most modalities related to election, while the General Election Directorate is responsible for updating the voter list using biometric data collected from the last census. The National Election Commission oversees the entire process and monitors the activities of all concerned parties. As a result of having three coordinating agencies, many logistical problems have emerged and overlapping mandates and poor communication amongst administrators have slowed the process. If there is not a candidate who wins an outright majority in the first round, a run-off election is scheduled for August 11, 2013.
The election in Mali represent a critical opportunity for the country to return to democratic rule and establish a truly representative government, while there remains the high potential for state fragility and violent armed conflict to spill over borders and assume regional (and in some cases global) consequences. In general, political parties remain committed to the electoral process; however, skepticism persists regarding the limited timeframe and fear that the current interim government will use delays to their advantage. Nevertheless, all parties agree that the country needs to quickly move beyond the March 2012 coup d’état and the subsequent interim government’s tenure to ensure Mali’s legitimacy and territorial integrity.
Currently, the electoral code states that all voters must be issued a newly created national identity card, known as a NINA card, to vote. As it stands, the NINA card will be the only form of voter identification. Distribution of the cards began in early July and will continue until Election Day.
The International Republican Institute
(IRI) anticipates that the central government will encounter a number of challenges during the administration of the presidential election. As such, IRI will conduct an assessment of the July 28 presidential election, which will serve as a confidence-building measure for Malians and assess whether the election meets international election benchmarks and standards for democratic elections. The election assessment mission will deter fraud and provide relevant Malian stakeholders and the public with accurate, impartial information on the electoral process. Furthermore, it will improve prospects for more credible legislative elections by raising awareness of the key challenges faced on Election Day and offering recommendations for forthcoming legislative elections.
IRI in Mali
IRI re-opened its office in Mali in May 2013 to work with political parties and civil society as they prepare for the upcoming presidential and parliamentary elections and supports the peaceful implementation Mali’s electoral processes. Working with civil society, political party, traditional representatives and other stakeholders, IRI hosts dialogues on electoral plans, preparations and policies between stakeholders and national electoral officials.
Ahead of the legislative elections, IRI will work with political parties as they identify candidates, particularly youth and women, to participate in the Institute’s candidate workshops that will focus on helping those running for office run issue-based campaigns. IRI also works with Malian journalists as they adapt to their codified rights and protections enshrined in the country’s new legal framework.
During the post-election period, IRI will bring political parties, women, youth and traditional leaders together to assess the conduct of the 2013 presidential and legislative elections and document recommended improvements to the electoral process as the nation prepares for municipal elections in 2014.
IRI began working in Mali in 2005 to equip young leaders with the tools and knowledge to effectively serve their communities. Prior to Mali’s 2009 electoral cycle, IRI held workshops on numerous election-related topics, including the decentralization process, responsibilities of communal councils and the electoral framework. Following the April 2009 municipal elections, IRI supported newly-elected representatives in selected communes to develop and implement strategic economic development plans.
With more than 30 years of experience in democracy programming, IRI will remain engaged in Mali’s election process as a part of the organization’s long-standing commitment to advancing freedom, self-government and the rule of law in Africa and worldwide. IRI currently has programs in the African countries of Kenya, Democratic Republic of Congo, Nigeria, Somaliland, South Africa, South Sudan, Sudan, Uganda and Zimbabwe.