Mali polls "tentative" step forward despite low turnout, protests & violence

A man holds his ballot paper at a polling station in Bamako on 20 November 2016.
A man holds his ballot paper at a polling station in Bamako on 20 November 2016. Photo: Habibou Kouyate/AFP

Local elections in Mali on Sunday were marked by low voter turnout, protests and incidents of violence, however the polls were a step forward, according to a leading Mali specialist. The vote had been delayed three times and its success was considered a key element to a peace deal which includes the creation of interim administrations in the country.


“In a general way, this can be seen as a step forward, but a very tentative one. These elections were scheduled two years ago and have been consistently delayed because of security and political concerns,” said Andrew Lebovich, European Council on Foreign Relations.

Six people were killed during polling day including five Malian soldiers who were ambushed while transporting ballot boxes in the north of the country, according to the AFP news agency. Violence in the southwest town of Dilli left one civilian dead when a council building was attacked.

“The vote comes on the end of a series of accelerating attacks, intimidation operations, including assassinations of local officials and threats in a number of towns,” said Lebovich.

Q&A: Andrew Lebovich

Participation in the polls was reported to be low with Bamako reporting 25 per cent turnout in three of the city’s six districts. Turnout was highest in the southern city of Sikasso where some 50 per cent of eligible voters went to the polls.

The low turnout was “not a good sign”, Mali specialist Lebovich told RFI on Monday. “It certainly speaks to a kind of apathy in some quarters about the state of government, about what difference participation might make.”

In the north of the country, some people took to the streets to protest the polls. Tuareg separatists in Kidal held signs saying that elections should not be held before the appointment of intermediary authorities, Reuters news agency reported.

“Several movements, particularly the Coordination of Movements of the Azawad (CMA), very regressively protested holding these elections because they want the interim authorities dictated by the Algiers accords to be in place before local elections could be held,” said the ECFR’s Lebovich.

Moussa Ag Assarid, an activist with the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA), described Sunday’s polls as a “farce”.

“It was a big aberration to support those in power in Mali at the moment, who do their level best to deny the existence of Azawad, or the existence of a political structure in the areas it controls,” said Ag Assarid by telephone in France.

“If you can vote, you vote. If you can’t vote, you don’t vote. More than that, it’s a violation of the Algiers agreement, which Mali signed and has violated several times,” he added.

Malian voters went to the polls on Sunday to elect some 12,000 councillors.

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