Mali battles voter fatigue ahead of polls

2013-12-13 13:09
A Malian woman speaks with election volunteers in a polling station set up for Mali's parliamentary elections in Gao, Northern Mali. (Jerome Delay, AP)

A Malian woman speaks with election volunteers in a polling station set up for Mali's parliamentary elections in Gao, Northern Mali. (Jerome Delay, AP)

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Bamako - People in Mali are being urged to cast off election fatigue and vote on Sunday in the fourth nationwide polls in less than six months, amid widespread apathy stoked by fears of Islamist violence.

The second round of the country's parliamentary elections comes three weeks after a poorly attended first, and follows two rounds of voting in July and August which saw Ibrahim Boubacar Keita take office as the troubled west African nation's president.

"There is a feeling that after the election of the president of the republic, it was game over. This is a mistake, but that's how it is," said Mamadou Samake, a sociologist and lecturer at the University of Bamako, who said that Malians were "tired of going to vote".

Sunday's polls, completing Mali's return to democracy, come during an upsurge in violence by Al-Qaeda-linked rebels who stalk the vast northern desert, an ever-present danger to French and African troops who are tasked with providing security alongside the Malian army.

Islamists ousted by French and African troops in January from the northern towns they had occupied in the chaos following a coup in 2012 resumed their deadly insurgency in September, after a lull of several months.

Violence

Since then, a dozen civilians, Malian troops and Chadian soldiers in the United Nations' Minusma peacekeeping mission have been killed in and around Gao, Timbuktu and Kidal.

In a grisly reminder for the West of the ongoing security crisis, al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb on 2 November kidnapped and shot dead two French radio journalists who had come to Kidal, 1 500km northeast of Bamako.

The first round of the election on 24 November passed without major incident but the ongoing threat of bloodshed was underlined on Tuesday by a French military operation in which troops killed 19 Islamist militants in Mali's vast northern desert.

Just 19 of the national assembly's 147 seats were allocated in the first round, with turnout at 38.6%, a drop of almost 13% points on the first round of the presidential vote.

After the first round of the parliamentary election, Louis Michel, chief of the EU observation mission, called on "all political actors to turn out on 15 December".

"In the specific context of Mali, voting is not only a right, it is a moral duty," he said.

But the campaign, which ends on Friday night, has failed to capture the imagination of Mali's 6.8 million voters and many analysts in Bamako are expecting participation to be even worse on Sunday.

In the restive north, the vote takes place in the Gao and Timbuktu regions, with seats in the rebel stronghold of Kidal decided in the first round. Two of the new intake are former rebels who laid down their arms to join Keita's ruling Rally For Mali (RPM).

Opposition

The party has vowed to deliver "a comfortable majority" to smooth the path for reforms Keita plans to put in place to rebuild Mali's stagnant economy and ease the simmering ethnic tensions in the north.

But analysts have speculated that the RPM may have to form a coalition with the Alliance for Democracy in Mali, one of the country's most established parties, which was split during the presidential polls between Keita and his rival, Soumaila Cisse.

Cisse, who is vying to represent the Union for the Republic and Democracy (URD) in his home region of Timbuktu, aims to become the leader of the parliamentary opposition.

He was among the fiercest opponents of former junta chief Amadou Sanogo, who has recently been charged with murder, complicity to murder and carrying out kidnappings after overthrowing the democratically elected government in March last year.

Sunday's election will be supervised by hundreds of Malian and international observers who will mainly stick to Bamako and central Mali, with the north considered too dangerous.
Read more on:    mali  |  west africa
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