Mali gears up for parliamentary polls
22 November 2013, 17:51
Bamako - Ravaged by war, hamstrung by political chaos and
mired in poverty, Mali sets out on the road to recovery on Sunday with the
first parliamentary polls since it was upended by a military coup.
The election will complete the troubled west African
nation's return to democracy, finalising a process which started with the
election of its first post-conflict president amid joyful scenes in the capital
Bamako three months ago.
But the vote takes place amid 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 for the election
alongside the Malian army.
Militants shelled the northern city of Gao on Thursday, and
although their rockets fell harmlessly short of the main urban centre, the
attack underlined the continuing security threat.
Islamists ousted by French and African troops in January
from the northern towns they had occupied last year resumed their deadly insurgency
on 28 September, after a lull of several months.
Since then, a dozen civilians as well as Malian 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
Uncertainty remains over security ahead of the vote in the
largely lawless region, the cradle of a Tuareg rebellion and the stronghold of
the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA), despite the presence
of peacekeepers and French and Malian troops.
Some 6.5 million Malians are eligible to elect a new
national assembly on Sunday, with more than 1 000 candidates running for 147
Four seats are up for grabs in the Kidal region, a vast but
sparsely populated expanse of desert with an electorate of around 30 000.
Yet no candidate has run a campaign of any note in the area,
and the leaders of the major political parties have in particular been
conspicuous by their absence.
The three-week campaign, which ends on Friday, has not
caught fire in Mali, and pundits are predicting a lower turnout than the 50% achieved
in the presidential election won by former prime minister Ibrahim Boubacar
The ruling Rally for Mali (RPM) has vowed to deliver "a
comfortable majority" to smoothe the path for the reforms Keita plans to
put in place to rebuild Mali's stagnant economy and soothe simmering ethnic
tensions in the north.
But Bamako-based social scientist Mamadou Samake told AFP
that it would be "difficult or impossible" for any one political
party to manage an overall majority, predicting that the RPM would be required
to go into coalition to form a government.
Such a deal would almost certainly require the acquiescence
of the Alliance for Democracy in Mali (Adema), 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 summoned before a judge to answer
accusations that his men committed atrocities after overthrowing the
democratically elected government in March last year.
Sanogo, controversially promoted to general in August by the
outgoing transitional government, has not responded to the summons, angering a
coalition of anti-coup politicians that includes Cisse.
Sunday's election will be supervised by hundreds of Malian
and international observers, including a European Union mission.
A second round will take place on 15 December if no party is
able to form a government following Sunday's vote.