Largely Peaceful Process Defines Presidential Election Day in Mali

July 29, 2013
 
An electoral officer in Bamako checks in a voter.Bamako, Mali – On July 28, 2013, Malian voters went to the polls to elect a new president, the first election since a 2012 coup deposed the former president and ushered in a transitional government.  The election marks an important step forward for the Malian people, who cast their ballots with hopes of bringing more stability to their country.  After a peaceful campaign between 28 candidates, a winner needs to receive 50 percent plus one of the votes cast or a run-off election will be held between the two candidates who received the most votes.  The Ministry of Territorial Administration, Decentralization and Regional Planning (MATDAT) has five days to transmit preliminary results to the country’s Constitutional Court, which will announce the winner before a possible August 11 run-off election.
 

The election was the first run by a coordinated effort of three government bodies, and with voters having received their national identity number card (NINA).  The NINA cards were a step forward for Mali, with the Government of Mali making a commendable effort to ensure that some 6.8 million voters received the new registration card in time for the election.  Nonetheless, a significant shortfall of the process was the inability to register a possible several hundred thousand voters who were disenfranchised, given the abbreviated time frame to prepare for elections under the January 2013 road map for the transitional government.  These groups included internally displaced persons (IDP) who had to flee violence in the north; refugees who are living in camps in neighboring countries; and, youth who came of voting age after the last census and were not included in the count for the new cards.  The road map envisioned both presidential and legislative elections by the end of July 2013.  With legislative elections now to be held in future months, the Government of Mali is encouraged to make a more concerted effort to provide NINA cards to a greater number of currently disenfranchised citizens. 

In southern Mali, voters check for their poll station locations prior to Election Day.IRI conducted an election assessment mission to assess the progress and commitment the Malian people have made to renew the country’s path to a strong democracy.  On Election Day, IRI deployed eight teams to Bamako, Koulikoro, Sikasso and Ségou, and witnessed voting in more than 120 polling stations.  The teams observed a process that was largely peaceful, with well-staffed polling stations and a large number of young citizen observers, representing government entities, domestic groups, the Constitutional Court and political parties.  Women voters were out in force on Election Day with a strong showing at the polls. 

Teams noted that the processes between polling stations lacked uniformity and that polling station workers in each station differed in how they registered voters, distributed ballots, marked voter lists and inked voters’ fingers.  Nonetheless, teams observed a widely transparent process at polling stations with election workers making a good faith effort to conduct an open process following the procedures as they understood them. 

Citizen and international observers were not allowed to witness the process at the national tabulation center in Bamako.  Observers also reported that they were not allowed to witness tabulation at the cercle level in Bamako.  The lack of transparency at this stage in the election process signals an area for review in future elections.

IRI recognizes that elections are a process, which includes the registration of voters and candidates, a campaign period, Election Day, ballot counting, adjudication of complaints and acceptance of results.  The electoral process cannot be separated from the political and legal framework within which it operates.  The Government of Mali should be commended on an electoral framework that allowed a somewhat transparent process to take place, one that included active campaigning on behalf of several candidates, government entities that conducted preparations for the election under significant time constraints, yet with an openness to scrutiny, and voters who were well educated about new voting procedures.   In particular, MATDAT should be commended for significant outreach to voters on how to obtain their NINA card and identify their polling station, including through an innovative text message system.  The citizens of Mali should be proud of the effort they undertook to obtain their NINA card, identify their polling stations and turn out in higher than average numbers on Election Day. 

In a village near Sikasso, Malian women wait to vote.Political candidates should be commended for conducting campaigns largely respectful of other candidates and focusing on issues relevant to the citizenry.  Regulations that allow public funding of political parties are noteworthy.     

IRI’s delegation makes the following preliminary recommendations as a roadmap for improving future Malian elections.  The recommendations will be further elaborated on in a full report IRI will be issuing in the forthcoming weeks. 

  • Increased efforts to register all voting age citizens, including IDPs, refugees and voters who have reached the voting age of 18;
  • Campaign financing, particularly defining allowable sources and limits of contributions;
  • Permanent election management bodies, to ensure best practices are codified in future elections;
  • Campaign period better defined;
  • A streamlined process for voters to identify their polling station; 
  • Allowing observers to witness the final count at the national tabulation center; and
  • Defining a specific deadline for announcing final results of a first-round election in order to ensure that run-off candidates have sufficient time to prepare for a second election.
 
IRI’s delegation was led by David Van Kesteren, a member of the Parliament of Canada from Chattam-Kent-Essex, who serves on the Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Development as well as the Finance Committee.  He is also a member of the Canada-Africa Parliamentary Association.
 

Other delegates were:

  • Mauril Bélanger, a member of the Canadian Parliament from Ottawa-Vanier and Co-chair of the Canada-Africa Parliamentary Association;
  • Charles Cloutier of Canada, Vice President of the Forum of Federations;
  • Jennifer Cooke of the United States, Director of the Africa Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies;
  • Vivian Lowery Derryck of the United States, President and Chief Executive Officer of the Bridges Institute;
  • Patrick Muyaya, a member of the Parliament of the Democratic Republic of the Congo;
  • Bernadette Paolo of the United States, President and Chief Executive Officer of the Africa Society of the National Summit on Africa; and
  • Josh Scheinert of Canada, an international law associate at Appleton and Associates.
 
Even in the dark, Malians continue to count votes.Prior to the election, delegates were briefed by Malian election stakeholders including civil society, electoral management officials and election experts.  Delegates were then deployed where they assessed the polling process and identified strengths and weaknesses in Mali’s election system. 
 

IRI staff also participated in the assessment mission.  IRI staff was led by Thomas E. Garrett, Vice President for Programs at IRI; Gretchen Birkle, Director for Africa programs; and Nicolas Teindas, IRI Resident Country Director for Mali.

IRI’s assessment mission was funded by Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development Canada.  Since 1983, IRI has monitored more than 150 elections in more than 46 countries.

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