ISS Today: Mali’s electoral cycle fraught with obstacles and instability

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    ISS Today

    Mali is entering an electoral cycle comprising
    local and regional elections on 17 December and presidential
    and legislative elections in 2018.

    The announcement of the date for the local and
    regional polls kicked off an election period marked by
    uncertainties, including increased insecurity and polarised
    politics. Beyond the election result, these polls – and by
    extension the 2018 presidential elections – face several risks
    that need to be mitigated.

    The local and regional polls are to elect
    presidents of regions and cercles (administrative
    subdivisions) and the Bamako District mayor. The elections must
    be coupled with communal polls in the 59 localities where, for
    security reasons, voting could not be held in November
    2016.

    These elections are a critical part of the
    implementation of institutional reform provided by the 2015
    Agreement for Peace and Reconciliation. The
    agreement
    was signed in 2015 between the Malian government and armed
    groups in the north.

    For the first time in Mali, regional and
    cercle presidents will be elected directly by voters. In
    the past, they were indirectly elected by communal councillors.
    The reform advocated by the peace agreement aims to strengthen
    the powers of the regional presidents.

    However the Co-ordination of Movements of
    Azawad (CMA) – a coalition of Tuareg
    independence and
    Arab nationalist groups formed during the
    Northern Mali conflict
    in
    2014 – is
    opposing
    the 17 December
    elections. Although the polls meet some of the political
    demands of the armed rebellion of 2012, the CMA – a signatory
    of the 2015 agreement – says other political reforms that are
    part of the 2015 agreement must be implemented. These include
    “operationalisation of the Interim Authorities, the
    organisation of the return of the refugees/displaced persons,
    the revision of the electoral lists, the review of the laws
    governing free administration and the code of the Territorial
    Collectivities and many other related aspects”.

    Mali’s political opposition also says the
    material conditions are not satisfactory for credible
    elections, and is demanding the audit of the electoral
    register.

    These obstacles to peaceful polls come against
    the backdrop of the
    suspension
    of the referendum
    procedure to revise the constitution some months ago after
    weeks of disagreement between supporters of and opponents to
    constitutional reform.

    In terms of security, the killing of a village
    chief’s adviser in the Mopti region on 7 November, and that of
    the village chief of Kerena in the Douentza cercle in November
    last year, highlight the aggression in the fight for local
    chieftaincy. Jihadists including the Group for the Support of
    Islam and Muslims are also threatening to derail voting in the
    areas where they are active.

    Besides this, citizens must fight off growing
    networks of criminals such as highway robbers and cattle
    raiders in the northern and central regions on a daily
    basis.

    Mali’s elections also face several operational
    challenges. These include the uneven presence of government
    throughout the territory and the return of refugees and
    displaced persons. According to the United Nations Refugee
    Agency (UNHCR), there were still some 143,103 refugees and
    58,594 internally
    displaced people
    at the end
    of June. In 2013, according to the UNHCR, there were 167,000
    refugees and 283,000 displaced people.

    The elections also pose a possible
    institutional crisis in Mali. President Ibrahim Boubacar Keïta
    suspects the opposition wants to hamper the organisation of the
    polls in order to secure a power-sharing agreement through a
    transitional government. Meanwhile the opposition believes the
    president is using the security risks as a pretence to extend
    his stay in power beyond the limits of the constitution.

    The security situation is unlikely to improve
    before the upcoming election, and so the regional and local
    elections on 17 December are a test ahead of next year’s the
    presidential and legislative polls.

    An inclusive framework is needed for political
    actors, civil society and the signatories of the 2015 peace
    agreement to discuss and agree on the best possible conditions
    for elections – which will be inevitably flawed but still
    credible. Alternatively they could agree on a postponement. A
    shared view is undoubtedly the best guarantee that the parties
    won’t take advantage of the shortcomings of the elections to
    contest the results.

    A
    political arrangement
    such
    as this made it possible in 2013 for the presidential elections
    to take place after the crisis in Mali and the Franco-African
    intervention. This crisis resulted in an armed rebellion in the
    north and a military coup followed by a political transition in
    Bamako.

    Limited progress on political and security
    challenges has taken place in Mali since then. Perhaps a
    similar process could see the country move forward – even if
    the pace is slow.
    DM

    Baba Dakono is a researcher, ISS
    Dakar

    Photo: An election observer
    confirms the numbers of voters with the numbers of ballots cast
    as official counting begins after Malians cast their vote in
    the second round of Mali’s presidential elections in Gao, Mali,
    11 August 2013. Photo: EPA/TANYA BINDRA

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