Mali polls marred by voting abuses
25 November 2013, 18:54
Bamako - Low turnout and vote abuses marred on Sunday elections
meant to complete democratic transition in Mali, after a coup last year led to
an Islamist takeover of the north that was crushed by French military
Officials said armed men carried off ballot boxes from some
bureaux in the Timbuktu region of northern Mali, preventing some people from
casting their votes in the legislative poll. It was not immediately clear who
The West African country has suffered a surge in Islamist
violence since President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita was elected in August in a vote
that marked a return to democracy after the March 2012 coup.
The military putsch plunged Mali into chaos and allowed al-Qaeda-linked
fighters to seize the northern two-thirds of the country. France launched a
massive military operation in January that drove the Islamists from northern
towns, but isolated cells have remained active.
Vote counting began after some 25 000 bureaux across the
country closed at 18:00 GMT. Only a fraction of the 6.7 million people
registered to vote appeared to have cast their ballot and there was no sign of
the long queues of voters that marked the presidential vote.
"Compared to the presidential elections the turnout was
very weak. In my bureau, we didn't even get a third of the voters," said
Oumar Samake, president of a voting bureau in Bamako. "Political parties
have to do more to inform their voters."
Malian soldiers, French troops and the UN peacekeepers
protected voting stations in the north following the resurgence of Islamist
violence. Gao, the largest city in northern Mali, was targeted in a rocket
attack on Thursday by suspected Islamists.
The election of a new parliament is supposed to complete the
democratic transition in the wake of last year's coup. Donors have pledged
$3.25bn to rebuild the impoverished country and develop its lawless desert
Despite some discontent in southern Mali with his peace
overtures to northern Tuareg separatist rebels, Keita's RPM party is expected
to comfortably win the election. Universally known by his initials IBK, Keita
swept the August 11 presidential runoff with 78% of the vote.
"The aim of my vote is to give a comfortable majority
to the president and his allies," said Boubacar Ouedrago, a butcher in
Bamako. "IBK needs this majority to complete his mission."
Protest in Kidal, gunmen in Goundam
At least 1 087 candidates from 410 electoral lists competed
for the 147 seats in parliament. A second round will be held on 15 December in
constituencies where there is no majority winner.
Keita's losing presidential rival, Soumaila Cisse, aims to
secure the post of parliamentary speaker and has pledged to form a vocal
opposition, according to sources close to him.
The unity governments of former president Amadou Toumani
Toure, which curtailed debate and accountability, have been blamed for damaging
faith in Mali's political system, encouraging the 2012 coup.
Keita's RPM party was the only one on the electoral list in
the far north region of Kidal, where it has enlisted the support of some of the
leaders of last year's uprising. Opposition candidates say it has been too
dangerous to campaign there.
At least 100 supporters of separatist parties staged a march in
Kidal's dusty center to protest against the elections but were prevented from
entering voting stations by members of the UN peacekeeping mission, residents
Oumou Sall Seck, mayor of the town of Goundam some 65km from
the ancient caravan town of Timbuktu, said voting was impossible in five of its
communes due to the disappearance of electoral materials or the theft of ballot
boxes by armed men.
"They were militia. They were armed and well-organised,
moving around on vehicles," said Seck, a member of Cisse's opposition URD
party. Officials also reported gunmen taking materials near Lere, 160km
southeast of Timbuktu.
France has more than 2 000 troops stationed in Mali but aims
to reduce its military presence to 1 000 by February as it hands security
responsibilities to the Malian army and the UN force. The UN mission, launched
in July, is still at roughly half its 12 600 planned strength.