Peaceful presidential election in Mali

Deutsche Welle
Publication date: 
Jul 29 2013

Mali's first election since the coup in March 2012 are intended to mark the country's return to the international community. Initial reports say there were few serious problems - and no violence in the north.

Election day in Bamako meant an early rise for many Malians: from early Sunday morning, long queues formed in front of polling stations. In the district of Badalabougou, a group of voters was standing around election worker Dialankoun Keita as he explained the procedure before the polls opened.

"Without 'Nina' you can't vote," he explains in both French and Bambara, the most commonly spoken language in this area.

The voters nod - they've all got their "Nina" or "numero d'identification nationale," their national identification number.

Keita<br />
Dialankoun Keita takes his responsibility very seriously as he examines a ballot-box

Keita is satisfied: "People here are really patient as they wait. They are motivated and eager to vote for their presidential candidate." At this point, the only challenge is the weather: even in the early morning hours, temperatures have already risen above 30 degrees Celsius (86 degrees Fahrenheit). But no-one's complaining.

There are 27 candidates on the ballot-papers; initial unconfirmed results suggest that the favorite, Ibrahim Boubacar Keita, is in the lead. By early Monday morning, there are rumors that he might already have won an absolute majority.

That would please Alassane Traore. He voted for Keita - or IBK, as he's known: "He's someone who cares for the people," says Traore. "That's why I voted for him, as well as for his character and for what he says."

Desperate search

Voting was easy for Traore, whose first presidential election this was. Other people had more problems. In some polling stations, there were still no polling booths when voting was due to start at 8 am (local time). But that problem was solved within the hour. The fact that some names were missing from the electoral registers was more of a problem. Maimouna Ben Aya was still searching for her name after a whole hour.

Ben Aya hunts for her name<br />
Maimouna Ben Aya says she'll stay until she finds her name on the list

"I'll keep looking till 6 pm," she said. "I'm going to vote." The presidential election is a real issue for her: "It's important for our country. We need someone to get us out of our current situation."

By that she means the country's political and economic stagnation. Mali has not had a democratically elected government since the coup of March 22, 2012, when President Amadou Toumani Toure was overthrown. After which many donor countries stopped giving aid. But the money is urgently required for investment. Mali needs a new president as soon as possible so that the money starts flowing again.

Enthusiasm for the poll

The early election date had often been criticized in the country in recent months, but in Bamako, on election day itself, that is scarcely an issue. Instead, people have made it clear they want to vote. There are no figures for the turnout yet but Oumar Sylla, a retired accountant, says he has never seen so many people at the polling station. "Ever since I was born, I have never experienced such an election," he says as he shows off his left index finger with the blue ink which shows he's already voted.

The mood in the north of the country is less enthusiastic. Louis Michel, head of the European Union team of election observers, carried out a lightning visit to Kidal, 1,500 kilometers (932 miles) from Bamako. "Turnout was low, but in the polling stations we visited, it was satisfactory," he told journalists.

Demonstration in Kidal

Louis Michel checking a polling station Louis Michel checked many polling stations but could find no serious irregularities

The reason for the low turn-out is not just the absence of polling cards, but evidently also attempts at intimidation by the Azawad Liberation Movement (MNLA). Young MNLA supporters are said to have demonstrated in front of one polling station in Kidal, for example. But all the polling stations were opened.

That alone can be seen as an achievement: there was unrest in Kidal only a little more than a week ago. The most influential forces there are still the MNLA and the High Council for the Unity of Azawad (HCUA). The rebels have been fighting for an independent Azawad and only reluctantly allowed the polling to go ahead. But just before the vote, they announced they would promote the idea of peaceful elections. They seem to have kept their word.