Mali election runoff tarnished by intimidation and allegations of vote rigging

Intimidation and allegations of vote buying sullied the last round of legislative elections in Mali aimed at rekindling confidence in institutions in difficulty despite a bloody jihadist conflict and a pandemic of viruses.

In central Mali, the president of a polling station was forcibly evicted and representatives of the electoral commission “chased by armed men”, said one of the representatives to AFP.

Military sources confirmed the incident.

Elsewhere, the vote was canceled after jihadists threatened to attack voters, witnesses said.

Already on Saturday, unknown assailants had destroyed voting equipment in northern Mali.

And on Sunday, the coordinating group of observers Synergie said that there had been numerous incidents of vote buying in several polling stations.

The first provisional results will be announced at the start of the week.

The election was postponed several times and the first round of March 29 was disrupted by jihadist attacks as well as the kidnapping of opposition leader Soumaila Cisse.

“Consolidate our democracy”

“I voted. It is important despite the economic situation. We need new deputies to consolidate our democracy,” Moussa Diakite, a 23-year-old student, told AFP.

Another student, Hamchetou Touré, said that she wore a face mask and respected the rules of social distancing during her vote in the semi-desert country, which has so far registered 216 cases of virus, including 13 deaths.

Among the measures taken by the government were a night curfew, school closings and restrictions on certain activities – but people were still crowding markets, mosques and public transport.

According to Synergie, anti-virus protection kits have been distributed to more than 96% of the polling stations it visited in the former French colony.

He indicated that polling station employees wore masks in more than 87% of the polling stations visited.

Mali, one of the poorest countries in the world, is grappling with an Islamist revolt that has claimed the lives of thousands of people and forced hundreds of thousands to flee.

Sunday’s runoff in the West African nation of 19 million people represents 147 seats in the National Assembly.

The vote took place in the capital as well as in the central city of Mopti and Gao, in the north of the country, according to residents.

Delays

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

The turnout in the first round averaged more than 35% nationwide, but was less than 13% in the capital Bamako.

In the second round vote on Sunday, the turnout was 23.2%, according to Synergie, which had dispatched election observers.

The election was scheduled to take place in late 2018 after Keita returned to power but has been 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 plans for peace. He signed an agreement with armed separatists in northern Mali in 2015, but the pact is largely at a standstill.

Violence in this region started in 2012 and was later 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 of coronavirus.

Keita, speaking to the nation wearing a face mask, said that “all health and safety precautions” would be “strictly enforced” during Sunday’s vote.

(AFP)