Covid-19, jihadist threats and kidnapping fail to stop Mali vote

Polls were opened on Sunday in Mali for the final round of legislative elections aimed at boosting public confidence in the country’s besieged institutions despite a bloody jihadist conflict and the coronavirus pandemic.

Voters in Mali, one of the poorest countries in the world with a population of 19 million, voted in the second round for 147 seats in the National Assembly.

The elections have been repeatedly postponed, eroding confidence in the institutions as the country battles an Islamist revolt that has claimed the lives of thousands and forced hundreds of thousands of people to leave their homes.

The Covid-19 pandemic has exacerbated the threats, with Mali recording 13 deaths out of more than 200 cases, a relatively weak assessment, but that which the experts warn is likely to increase.

The first round, on March 29, was disrupted by jihadist attacks and intimidation, including the kidnapping of opposition leader Soumaila Cisse.

The national participation rate averaged 35.6%, but was only 12.9% in the capital Bamako.

It was the country’s first parliamentary election since 2013, when President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita’s Rally for Mali party won a large majority.

Delays in relation to security threats

The elections were scheduled to take place in late 2018 after Keita returned, but the poll was postponed several times, mainly due to security concerns.

A “national dialogue” held last year to discuss the spiral of violence in Mali called for the completion of the poll by May.

The hope is that the new deputies will approve changes to the constitution that will promote decentralization.

This is the key to advancing the government’s peace plans – it signed an agreement with armed separatists in northern Mali in 2015, but the pact is largely stalled.

The violence in northern Malibegan in 2012 was then fueled by jihadists.

Challenging thousands of French and UN soldiers, the jihadists campaigned in the center of the country and are now threatening neighboring Burkina Faso and Niger.

Mali’s conflict zones and poor health care infrastructure place it in the category of countries which, according to health experts, are at high risk for coronavirus.

An election observation NGO warned of social distancing during Sunday’s vote. Keita said that “all health and safety precautions” will be “strictly followed”.

(FRANCE 24 with AFP)