Are the elections in Mali this week, a year after a coup, too premature?
Much of the conversation surrounding Mali‘s polls date seem to suggest the country may not have been ready to hold a presidential election just yet.
Its been more than a year since a coup d’état left the country’s government and people in their current state: functioning under a hollow political infrastructure with the looming threat of terrorism. In March 2012, Mali’s former president Amadou Toure was forcefully removed from power by military members. Toure’s ousting left the country divided by the control of Islamist insurgents in northern Mali and a southern region bearing the brunt of the chaos as displaced refugees from the North fled the violence. The following month, power was transferred from the military over to an administration headed by interim President Dioncounda Traoré, and it has only been seven months since Mali’s colonial-ruler-turned-ally, France, reclaimed a majority of the northern region and reunited it with the rest of the country.
Despite the hope the election brings, the country remains divided as Islamist sects continue to increase their presence in the North, with specific influence in the city of Kidal (where voter turn out is said to have been at it’s lowest). The south is still a safe-haven for Malians from the northern region, afraid and unwilling to return to the region they once called home.
What You Should Know About the Mali Election
- The 27 official candidates for the presidential election.
While the number of candidates may be a bit overwhelming for the average Mali voter, a few of the candidates are making efforts to distinguish themselves from the pack. One of those candidates is Haidara Aissata Cissé. Cissé is the only woman in the race and has made news headlines for her simple approach to presidential campaigning: hitting the streets. The 54-year-old has strayed from the normal political practice of warming up to government officials, trading some of those hours for time walking through markets and villages to meet with Malian citizens.
- Measures taken to ensure the safety and creditability of the elections
Though Mali has more than 15.9 million people, the country has historically had a low voter turnout. The average rate since independence is an estimated 40 percent. This year, the number is expected to grow. In preparation for the elections, the government has issued free IDs – called NINA cards – to registered voters. More than 6 million people have received the French-made cards, and though France’s presence in Mali has scaled down, there are still 1,000 French soldiers in the country. The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) has also dispatched 250-member team to monitor the elections. The mission was be led by former Ghanaian President John Agyekum Kufuor.
- Re-establishing democracy is not the only topic of discussion.
If anyone is aware of the poor political climate in Mali, its Malians. In the months following the military junta and subsequent international media coverage, the country has seen significant change. The lack of infrastructure has also left millions of children out of school. The majority of refugees in southern Mali are displaced with little resources available to support them, and Tuareg groups are still present in northern cities like Gao and Timbuktu. Among other topics of discussion is the practice of genital mutilation– a common yet dangerous traditional practice.
Why Elections, Why So Soon?
Despite talk of the country’s “premature” election date, the 2013 presidential elections are a chance for Malians to unite the country and provide the country’s citizen’s with relief from the current issues.
Re-building Mali’s government after more than a year of instability is important for the country’s future. International interest in the the country’s infrastructure stems from a variety of issues, the priority being the increasing presence of insurgents in the North. The lack of structure has led to the deterioration of the average citizen’s quality of life – a factor often connected to the growth of terrorism in a country. Tuareg ties to Al-Qaeda and other extremist organizations are believed to pose a threat to Africa as well as the global community’s fight against terrorism.
The success or failure of the elections could also affect the way the country’s younger population views democracy. Youth are fast becoming the majority in Africa, and in Mali, the median age is 16 years old. The credibility of the election process will determine future political participation by this critical demographic.