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The Elections in Mali: Why they must be postponed

July 10, 2013 - Dakar, Senegal


Reducing the risk of contestation of the results

"It would be important for the Malian authorities to carefully consider whether the timetable that they have adopted allows sufficient time to ensure that the elections actually contribute to enhancing stability and national reconciliation." We deem this advice of the United Nations’ Secretary General (UNSG) to the Malian authorities in his report of June 10 2013 on the situation in Mali wise and judicious: the consequences for peace and stability of elections that would not be perceived as reasonably transparent, credible and, especially, inclusive are enormous and easy to imagine. In effect, it would be illusory to hope for the establishment of legitimate political authorities able to lead the process of finding solutions to the present challenges of Mali, should the election results suffer challenges on all fronts. We should therefore laud the President of the CENI who has clearly stated "(that) it would be extremely difficult to hold the first round of the presidential elections on July 28 ... (because there are) still a lot of challenges to address.”

By their silence on the many shortcomings of the process and by the state of their preparation to participate, the majority of Malian political actors – notably the candidates – give the impression that they adhere to the electoral process as it is presently being conducted. However, it is unlikely that they will all be willing to accept the results, whatever they are, as we have seen elsewhere in the sub-region. Quite the contrary, the ‘losing candidates’ will be the first to recall all the weaknesses of the process, though now clearly visible, and use them to challenge the results. Moreover, they are unanimous in recognizing the unique nature of the scheduled elections and the need for adequate preparation so that the elected receives the approval of all Malians. Thus, great seriousness should be accorded to the imminent elections. Any haste could plunge Mali into a crisis with incalculable effects not only for the country but also, and especially, for the West African region.

A few weeks of postponement of the Presidential elections in Mali would help solve certain major weaknesses of the process and would particularly reduce – though not completely annul – the risk of contestation of the results. The first and principal task should be for the Election Management Bodies (EMB) to identify the major challenges that remain to be addressed and the measures required to reduce the negative impact of these challenges on the quality of elections management and the means required to achieve this.

For example, the weaknesses of the electoral list must be identified and, circumstances permitting, the necessary corrections made. The same goes for developing concrete measures to guarantee the vote of internally and externally displaced Malians so that they are not neglected. The security situation, whose improvement will necessarily contribute to a better management of the electoral process, must also be taken very seriously. Even if, in his report of June 10th 2013, the UNSG estimates that MINUSMA ‘will reach its full operational capacity…towards the end of 2013’, a few weeks of postponement would assist the MINUSMA forces that are already deployed to secure the most fragile regions for the holding of peaceful elections.

The postponement of the elections would also provide an opportunity to better understand the timing of elections. In essence, if the elections were to be postponed for some two or three months, it would be held in September or in October. It would be, perhaps prudent, to examine if coupling the Presidential elections with the legislative ones – which, according to the roadmap, would be held in September – would not be more beneficial for the country. This would reduce the cost of elections and the tensions that accompany them in post-conflict contexts, as is presently the case in Mali, and would prevent the temptation to manipulate the legislative elections by the President-elect who would not be in the same position of "neutrality" as required from the transitional authorities. The cases of Guinea and Cote d'Ivoire (where presidential elections were organized before the legislative) on the one hand, and that of Niger (where the presidential was held after the legislative) on the other hand, provide indications of the most favorable path for the establishment of legitimate political authorities in Mali.

Why postponement?

The necessity of postponing the elections, for at least a few weeks, is justified by a number of reasons. The most important are enumerated as follows.

There are several reasons to believe that the EMB are not technically ready for the organization of the elections on July 28, 2013. In fact, they do not yet have the necessary financial and human resources. In addition to this, the distribution of nearly seven million voter cards in a vast territory in less than one month is nearly impossible. It is not certain that an election staff can be trained and deployed on time, especially in the northern part of the country. Also important to note is that this will be the first experience, in Mali, of elections conducted with the use of biometric voter equipment.

Another issue of concern is the voters’ list that was used for the printing of voters' cards. Developed from the civil status census (and not for the elections), this list could become a major headache in the case the number of people who do not find themselves on the list, those registered outside of their voting stations, or those who came of voting age after the creation of the list (estimated at some 400,000) would not be negligible, not to mention the vote of the displaced populations who, despite returns home, are today estimated at several hundreds of thousands.

The security situation, especially in the northern part of the country, is another major source of concern. Despite the Ouagadougou Agreement, the case of Kidal remains a cause for concern, like other regions of the North. It would seem, according to the UNSG report cited above, that the administrative authorities (governors, prefects and others) only have control of the city centers in Gao and Timbuktu and that "insecurity continues to prevail in the rural areas." The asymmetric tactics adopted by the armed extremist groups after having been weakened by the military operation, sheds new light on the security issue. Indeed, what region of Mali can now be deemed secure against such types of combat tactics? Bamako itself is not secure. Even if a postponement of the elections does not eliminate these types of risks, it is possible to reduce them and to sufficiently prepare stakeholders of the elections (such as the EMB, the electorate, those participating in the elections campaigns, ...) to deal with them.

How, for example, would the voters’ list be displayed – in order to give voters the opportunity to help correct it – during the raining season? How would candidates properly campaign during the raining season and during the period of Ramadan in a country that is over 90% Muslim? How would enough time be guaranteed for other actors – including civil society – to prepare, including for qualitative participation in the electoral process, something that would enhance the credibility of the elections and reduce the risk of contestation of the results? Such are the questions that must be taken into account in order to increase the chances of organizing elections that would garner the support of the largest number of people.

Postponing the elections is not without risks

Postponing the elections, like every time one has to make a choice amongst several options, is not without risks. We can actually imagine that this will contribute to strengthening all forces – notably those who were involved in the coup of 2012 – which would go against the goal of using the elections to re-establish legitimate authorities. It is equally possible that the postponement would increase the ability of those – for example, certain members of the transition government – who would want to take advantage of their present positions to attempt to influence the electoral process. But these risks are not insurmountable.

What we must realize is that a sufficient postponement time-frame would permit, in an incontestable manner, to considerably reduce these risks. For example, taking advantage of the postponement period to increase transparency and credibility in the electoral process would certainly reduce the ability to manipulate the process as it would improve the preparations and provide the time and the means for actors who are contributing to the monitoring of the process. With regards to the second risk, the world recognizes that the power of the insurgency was considerably reduced by AFISMA, the international support mission for Mali and serval, the French military operation. It is difficult to imagine how a proper process of establishing the MINUSMA – which prioritizes the security of the electoral process – could increase this threat.

To conclude, it is important, following the report of the UNSG of the 10th of June 2013 on the situation in Mali, to direct the attention of all stakeholders to the fact that "under the present circumstances, the elections will not be perfect” in Mali; thus, everyone involved, particularly the political actors and the candidates, should take this into account in order to appreciate the management of the electoral process and the ensuing results. It is equally important to emphasize the responsibility of the Malian authorities – the Interim President of the Republic, the Prime Minister, the EMB, etc – to do everything in their ability, including allowing enough time if necessary, to reduce, as much as possible, reasons for contesting the results of the elections. Citing again the report of the UNSG on the situation in Mali, "Malians will accept the results of the elections (only) if they feel that the results reflect their collective will." The important work undertaken by the Malian civil society to ensure transparency of the electoral process and reliability of the results should be continued so that all stakeholders truly understand their responsibilities.

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The Open Society Initiative for West Africa (OSIWA) is a part of the Open Society Foundations global network and one of four foundations in Africa. OSIWA is dedicated to the promotion of inclusive democratic governance, transparent and accountable institutions and active citizenship across the region. OSIWA envision a West Africa where people enjoy basic freedoms, everyone can participate meaningfully in civic and political life, inequalities and inequities are minimized, exclusion gives way to greater appreciation for pluralism, and governments are accountable and corruption is on the wane. www.osiwa.org