The international community has been mounting almost constant pressure to ensure that the upcoming Malian elections will indeed take place. The strongest push by a foreign nation asking for elections came from the French President, Francois Hollande, who declared in a televised interview at the end of March, that, “We want there to be elections in Mali at the end of July. We are adamant about this timing.” This announcement has allowed us to see an acceleration of history going on right now in Mali.
Elections despite all hurdles
The deficit of legitimacy for the next Malian president may stem from the low level of participation caused by the technical deficiencies of the voting process
By forcing the 6,830,000 eligible voters to go to the ballot boxes on Sunday, July 28, and to decide between 27 candidates, the actors that have overseen the Malian transition hope to end a political process and struggle that have been dragged on for over a year.
This alternative regime with hinder the return of the rule of law to Mali for the fact of the juxtaposition of the army – which is influential in political affairs – and the authorities of the transition. Many Malian politicians and ministers are currently close to the March 2012 junta. Those in the political leadership of the West African nation have denounced, on many occasions, the interference of captain Amadou Haya Sanogo, in the political happenings at Bamako, particularly during the forced resignation of Cheick Modibo Diarra, the ex-prime minister (and currently a candidate for president) in December 2012. He was forced out with his government by the chief of the ex-junta which co-governed the nation.
If it is a good idea to find a solution to reduce the influence of the military in politics, by going to the ballot box to elect a new president, the international actors in the Malian situation are taking, nonetheless, a risk of promoting the installation of a new leader in an election, that, under wrongful circumstances, may be disputed, as well as the risk of new confrontations between militants of different political allegiances.
The deficit of legitimacy for the next Malian president may stem from the low level of participation caused by the technical deficiencies of the voting process. The haste of the restricted early voting, the registration of voters on voting lists and the consolidation of census data with biometric voter cards all create a number of hurdles for an inclusive vote.
|Infographic: Mali Election 2013
Initiated towards the end of 2009, new census data is being used for the first time in Mali but its use is flawed for the fact that the census did not cover the entirety of the country. Another drawback is that, because of the massive refugee and displacement crisis in the north of the country (which currently affects around 175000 people), many are subsequently inaccessible to the central government for the organisation and implementation of a vote.
The third thorn in the side of the program is largely symbolic: the Kidal region is effectively slipping away from Malian state control out of Bamako. Despite the agreement signed on the June 18 between the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA) and the High Council for the Unity of Azawad (HCUA) and the fact that groups from the region look upon the elections favourably, militant factions are of a different mindset.
On many days, the region has been sieged by those factions that are pro-elections and on other days, those that are hostile to elections. One team of electoral administrators had been kidnapped and then were later rescued, and according to officials in Bamako, their kidnappers were members of the MNLA. Despite the presence of MINSUMA, the UN force that was put in place to stabilise, and despite the return to calm in these last few days, holding an election in Kidal is still precarious.
Elected under legitimate or illegitimate circumstances, the future Malian president will be facing a challenging job ahead of him: namely, the restoration of the state, collapsed by a military putsch and a jihadist conflict that led to a lengthy occupation of Mali’s north, as well as bringing reconciliation to the Azawad, which for the complexity of its geopolitical situation has still not recovered from the consequences of the crisis.
Reconstitution of the state
The palace of Koulouba, where the Malian president takes his seat, is sought out by men of a variety of different Malian political classes, evidenced by the backgrounds of the 27 candidates running for the country’s highest office. Some of them are have been known for many decades. They are “ready for anything”, as we commonly say, for the obvious double meaning: the competition to attain power will be harsh, and, the candidates will work to attain their favoured outcome at any cost, not excluding contesting the results that are not in their best interest.
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In Bamako, we have already considered the possible fraud that may occur with fake electoral cards that have been printed without a photo, and the immediate proclamations of victory on the night of July 28 by certain candidates that have created those ghastly scenarios to assure them the power they desire. This would be a catastrophe for a country that is already at its knees.
Have the presidential candidates truly judged the significance of the problems that they will have to take on once they are elected to lead a state that is only barely cohesive because of international intervention. All of the candidates promise to be up for carrying this heavy burden, but this is not a new phenomenon, especially in a time of elections. But given the actual state of affairs, Mali will need a leader capable of realising a vision of politics elevated from any personal concerns for power.
The sudden fall of the old regime of Amadou Toumani Toure brought Mali to the international community’s attention that had previously received good “grades” from the independent obvservers and institutions for its governance, and who used to consider Mali a good example of the progress of democracy in West Africa. That era is over, with many having realised that this reputation was based on a consensual political dissimulation of the true state of affairs. Shining a light on corruption at the highest levels of the state during the previous administration showed that Malian democracy was little more than a façade. The powers that ran the state resigned and the country was devoured, little by little, by poor governance before ultimately it was at such a dire state that a military putsch erupted while the north suffered through an armed rebellion.
It is the very reorganisation of the state which is at stake for the next Malian president. He will have to be a builder who creates a new foundation for the country. Without a coherent state, without strong institutions, without real democracy and without justice, reconciling the north and the south of the country will be unthinkable, for the divisions between two entities have not ceased to worsen since the events of 2012.
And so, for the elites, as well as for the average northerner, having been through war and having reached some shred of peace, it will be essential, this time around, to decide “the Touareg question” in a deep and durable manner for it constitutes the other major stake of this upcoming election.
Peace, reconciliation, and development for the North
Only a few candidates have passed through the large northern cities, and when they have, they only breeze through
The north of Mali is a landlocked desert inhabited by the Touareg, Maure, Sonrai and Peulh minorities. It suffers from underdevelopment, chronic drought, it has been particularly adversely affected by climate change, it lacks political representation and suffers because of the rampant vote-catching that leads to scant progress. These are just some of the conditions that hobble this woebegone region and they are the consequence of the political decisions of the south.
We speak about the billions of Francs that have been invested towards the development of the north from the second half of the 1990s until the second, most recent, rebellion. But in the dry desert, in the cities, in the villages and nomad camps, we ask ourselves, where has this staggering sum actually gone?
If in the past the north would see politicians pass through during the election season, this year, with a shortened campaign (which will have lasted for no longer than three weeks), even the main cities in the north will see very little political activity. And outside the towns of Timbuktu, Gao and Kidal, there will be even less. Only a few candidates have passed through the large northern cities, and when they have, they only breeze through.
Many possible voters in the north, notably the Touaregs and the Maures, and especially those displaced or who are now refugees, understand well the significance of the vote and their possible impact. For them, the future president will decide their very future. Conscious of this reality, there have been voters that have engaged some candidates and others that are trying to facilitate the voting process in populated urban areas or in refugee camps.
In the history of the conflict in north Mali there is a new order: the birth of a civil society, which is dominantly Touareg but also consists of other communities. The movement is strong and there is a desire to affirm their identities, evidenced by their refutation of any alliance with the armed movements in the north. The budding civil society in the north can bolster the inter-Malian dialogue foreseen by Article 21 of the recently signed Ouagadougou Accord, which asks for inclusive peace negotiations.
A true signal of this revival is the evolution in the rhetoric of the Organisation for Civil Society of Azawad, known by its French acronym of OSCA. OSCA brings together disparate tribes and members of different ethnicicities from the Timbuktu region, whilst simultaneously reaching out to others in different northern regions. The organization makes its members conscious of the necessity for profound reflection for the resolution of the crisis and the cyclical conflict that often engulfs the region.
It also deployed to provide assistance for the organisation of elections in refugee camps in Mauritania as to send a strong signal to the future president. “We cannot have a dialogue about the final status of north Mali with a regime in transition. We will need to have negotiations that are inclusive and global with the next, legitimately elected, president, which is why the elections should take place as quickly as possible, because that suits everybody”, explains Abdoullahi Ag Mohamed El Maouloud, the president of OSCA.
If for Timbuktu OSCA is the means toward achieving inter-Malian dialogue, Kidal has thrown its lot in with armed groups like the MNLA and the HCUA which maintain pressure on Bamako, whilst pretending to compromise.
Through their activities, the militants affiliated with the MNLA and the HCUA do not want to be forgotten by the next president. They also wish to resume a dialogue between the belligerents of the conflict sixty days after the elections.
Because there is only a minority of Touregs, who originally come from Kidal, who find themselves between militant groups, they will be key interlocutors in future dialogue and the next president will have to integrate Touareg representatives in any talks.
There must be a way to prevent repeating a mistake of the past where accords have tended to be signed uniquely with representatives of militant groups who claim to be the “sole representatives of the Touaregs” which is undoubtedly not the case. The various candidates in the election seem to have understood this issue in their analyses of the problems that face Mali, but their comprehension of these facts should be followed by concrete actions, treating the question of the north in an inclusive, global and sensitive manner.
In this future dialogue each region of north Mali will take part in proposing local solutions to the problems raised. For this to happen, it will be crucial for the president in Bamako to proceed with a deep study of the crisis and its evolutions with the cooperation of traditional actors, such as tribal chiefs, party cadres, religious figures and represetinatives of civil society, in order to assure the legitimacy of representation of different Touareg tribes that are not homogenous and have a diversity that spreads across Timbuktu, Gao, Menaka and Kidal, and the regions in between.
The future president will have a major project on his hands, to put Mali on the road to peace, to further democracy as well as development. Will the man elected today be up to face these challenges and Malian aspirations?
Intagrist El Ansari is an independent journalist in northwest Africa and a correspondent for international news channels.
Translated from French to English by Aaron Sekhri.
The views expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera's editorial policy.