Mali rivals to face off in presidential vote

Former prime minister and former finance minister will go head-to-head in second round.

Mali election paper
Following this week's first round poll, the 27-candidate field has narrowed to two [Reuters]

Bamako, Mali – Former prime minister Ibrahim Boubacar Keita will face former finance minister Soumaila Cissé in an August 11 run-off after failing to win Mali’s presidential election in the first round.

The provisional results round off a week which saw Malians voting for their first president since a coup toppled the twice-elected government in March 2012. Despite lingering security concerns and complaints over a flawed voter registration process, government figures suggest a turnout of 51.54 percent, shattering Mali’s previous record high of 38 percent.

Keita, known locally by his initials, IBK, garnered 39.23 of the first round vote, falling short of the 50 percent needed to win outright. He was, however, well ahead of Cissé, who secured 19.44 percent, said Colonel Moussa Sinko Coulibaly, minister of territorial administration.

Friday’s results should help ease tensions after Coulibaly told reporters on Tuesday, before vote-counting had finished, that Keita may exceed the 50 percent threshold. In a chaotic press conference, the minister said that, with one-third of votes counted, Keita held a wide lead over the 27-candidate field.

Coulibaly told reporters IBK may win outright [Reuters]

He declined to provide any figures in support of his claim. However, The country’s media went on to publish the unsubstantiated figures, based on partial results.

This, naturally, delighted IBK supporters – who took to the streets chanting “one round”, while enraged Keita opponents immediately cried foul.

But even before Coulibaly’s claims, officials within the Cissé campaign were questioning the fairness of the vote.

“There is massive fraud,” said Baba Daga, a Cissé adviser. “There are many problems with the vote… Private radio announced results that are not true, this constitutes a problem.”

The FDR coalition, a network of four political parties – including Cissé’s URD party, also released a statement early in the week, denouncing “malfunctions” that it believed “deprived hundreds of thousands of Malians from taking part in choosing the next president”.

Cissé even said he would reject the election result if the poll did not go to a second round. 

There is massive fraud. There are many problems with the vote... Private radio announced results that are not true - this constitutes a problem.

Baba Daga, Cisse adviser

This constituted an about-face for Cissé and his allies, who, just days before the vote, told Al Jazeera of the need to press ahead with the election, despite voter registration problems they cited as evidence of a flawed process.

On Thursday, Gouagnon Coulibaly, Cissé’s campaign director, told Al Jazeera they were suspicious of Keita’s performance in the capital city, Bamako, saying that voting margins as high as 80 percent were implausible.  

But thus far, election observers, including those led by the African Union, European Union and APEM – a network of 2,100 Malian election observers – maintain that voter turnout was high and elections were carried out in an orderly manner.

“They [Malians] did it with serenity, calm and discipline,” said Louis Michel, head of the EU Election Observation Mission in Mali. “The entire process was based on transparency,” he continued. “The first round of the presidential election took place in a peaceful atmosphere.”


The August 11 vote will pit two mainstays of Mali’s much maligned political class against each other.

Keita was considered by most analysts before the vote to be the frontrunner, and served as the country’s Prime Minister for much of the 1990s, He ran for president – unsuccessfully – twice before, and was parliamentary speaker during the first term of President Amadou Toumani Touré, who was ousted by mutineering soldiers last year. Once a founding member of Mali’s largest political party, ADEMA-PASJ, Keita split from the group in 2000 to form his own political party, Rally for Mali – known by its French initials RPM.

He finished third in the 2002 presidential elections, narrowly missing the opportunity to face off against Amadou Toumani Touré. That vote, which was carried out under delays and amid allegations of vote-rigging, remains a rallying cry for some Keita supporters, who maintain to this day that “he was robbed” of his chance to be president.

Mali vote goes to run-off

Keita’s reputation on the street is that of a straight-shooter and a tough negotiator. In the Bambara language, Malians often refer to Keita as Kankelentigui – a man who says things once and means it.

“He is the man for the time,” said Lamine Koné, a taxi driver who has covered his rear windshield with IBK posters. “He is a strong leader and he will restore our honour and our dignity… Our country, with all these problems, all these challenges, we need him.”

Among political analysts in Bamako, Keita is thought to be the preferred choice of France, and perhaps more crucially, the Malian military, which includes a coterie of putschists who continue to exert influence from the garrison town of Kati. Keita also recently received the endorsement of SABATI 2012, a network of influential and well-financed Muslim leaders, which has refrained from publicly endorsing candidates in the past.

But Keita’s path to 51 percent of the second round vote is not as clear as his frontrunner status might suggest, and his opponent is no stranger to the inner workings of Malian party politics.

Cissé has served as Mali’s finance minister and is an as well as head of the West African Monetary Union. Like Keita, Cissé rose to prominence within the ADEMA-PASJ, running as the party’s presidential candidate in 2002. After losing the election to Amadou Toumani Touré, Cissé had a bitter falling out with ADEMA-PASJ, and formed his own party, the Union for the Republic and Democracy, in 2003.

Both Keita and Cissé will be forced to build coalitions if they hope to win the August 11 vote.

Cissé already has natural allies in Dramane Dembélé and Modibo Sidibé, who came in third and fourth respectively, while Keita will be eager to consolidate existing alliances within his own camp. 

With millions of voters not voting in the first round – and hundreds of thousands of ballots rejected – Bamako is already abuzz with rumours of horse trading and dealmaking.

Follow Peter Tinti on Twitter: @petertinti

Source: Al Jazeera

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