Debates, Controversies and New Developments – Mali



Major debates during the period of transition

Mali experienced a political transition following the 2012 military coup that interrupted the democratic governance initiated in 1991. The mandates given to the authorities in charge of the subsequent transition were first to restore Mali’s territorial sovereignty by liberating the northern regions, and second, the organization of transparent and credible elections. The first mission began with military operations in the northern regions during January 2013. The second objective took place with the first round of presidential elections on July 28, 2013 and a second round run-off held August 11, 2013. However, the region of Kidal remains predominantly controlled by armed groups and all negotiations and mediations have failed between these groups and the new government so far. Many feared that these groups would pose significant challenges to holding elections in northern Mali, but the presidential and legislative elections of 2013 took place without any significant issues and appear to have complied with the fundamental provisions of the electoral law.

Based on the road map adopted on January 29, 2013 by the Transitional Government and the National Assembly, especially point HH.2, there are a number of envisioned political reforms:

  • to improve the electoral system by passing a law determining the general system of elections
  • ensure that all political actors have the possibility to express themselves by passing a law on audiovisual communication
  • organize media professions by a law governing the media
  • bestow a legal status on opposition parties and the main leader of the opposition

For the July 2013 presidential elections, the DGE revealed that there were 6,877,449 registered voters including 3,437,928 women. The MATDAT (Ministry of Territorial Affairs, Decentralization and Land Use) issued NINA cards (national identity card) to all voters in time for the July 2013 elections. The introduction of this card was a major change for elections in Mali.

There were major challenges for the successful organization of the elections in Mali. Several financial and development partners of Mali pushed for the organization of transparent and credible elections as soon as possible following the 2012 coup, so that the country would have legitimate authorities. Some of these partners even suspended their support following the military coup until legitimate authorities could be elected. In addition to this, the authorities of the transitional government faced major challenges, some of which were beyond their control – for instance the security situation in northern Mali. As a result, public opinion was divided about maintaining or postponing the July date for presidential elections. Some argued that maintaining the date would allow for the election of legitimate authorities which in turn would allow for the reestablishment of cooperation with development partners and help end the crisis in Mali as quickly as possible. Others believed that the short deadline would not allow the organization of transparent and credible elections. Consequently, they argued it was more advisable to delay elections rather than organize poor elections that would result in post electoral conflicts. Fortunately, the elections which took place in 2013 appear to have been transparent and credible. Unfortunately, many of the challenges – such as the security situation in the northern regions of the country – remain unresolved.

Another challenge is the low voter turnout, which remains one of the lowest in the world. In this regard, Malian civil society organizations and the Ministry of Territorial Affairs are conducting information and awareness campaigns targeting Malian citizens.

The General Office of Elections (DGE) in cooperation with other partners has already initiated information and consultation activities with political parties and civil society organizations on the conduct of the electoral process. In addition, a major campaign in local languages to educate male and female voters about the NINA card was conducted for two months before the July 2013 elections.

The race for the 2013 presidential elections was open and initially there was no favorite candidate. The campaign debates focused on the main priorities of the future president which seemed endless. Malians aspire to major changes, including good governance, the combating of corruption and impunity, the search for a lasting solution to the conflict in the north, youth unemployment, etc. People’s expectations are numerous and commensurate to the deep crisis affecting the country. Consequently, future debates surrounding the electoral system in Mali are likely to remain unpredictable and in flux.

Major debate under Ibrahim Boubacar Keïta’s regime

Ibrahim Boubacar Keita (IBK) became the president of Mali after the 11 August 2013 presidential election. Just after his investiture, the new president undertook political and institutional reforms in order to address the gaps and shortcomings in the institutional practice under the old regime. The one that has generated perhaps the most controversy is the bill on the “Status of the political opposition”, adopted by the Council of Ministers during its regular session on 13 August 2014. Although a consultation framework between the Ministry of Interior and the political class has been set up to discuss the draft law before its adoption, the new law has been met with mixed reactions.

The first controversy concerns the legal status of the Leader of the Opposition. Some believe that the Leader of the Opposition should be the candidate who came second in the presidential election, while others argue that the position of should automatically go to the party that has the largest number of members in the parliament. Still others argue that having a majority of MPs should not be the only criterion to become the head of the opposition. These critics believe that this can disadvantage the party with the largest number of municipal councilors.

The second controversy relates to the importance of the draft law regarding the legal status of the Leader of the Opposition in the deepening of democracy in Mali. For some, a well-defined status for the opposition will strengthen the democratic process that was undermined by the 22 March 2012 military coup. This draft law should then allow the opposition to be free from any dependence or influence that may prevent it from playing its true role counter power and that of an opposition to the service of the nation. Thus, the Leader of the Opposition will be informed of the major issues of the nation, will be associated with decision making, and will have a free hand to act on behalf of his peers. For others, this bill represents a disguised strategy of the new regime to force the opposition to share power. They fear that the opposition will become subservient to the leader in power, with considerable advantages and insignificant power. This could lead to the kind of democratic consensus that developed under the former President Amadou Toumani Touré (ATT), which resulted in an almost non-existent opposition during the 10 years of ATT’s reign (2002 to 2012).

Useful links and documentary resources

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