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In Mali, elections between war and virus

La Croix (France)

In this war-torn country, the abstention rate in the second round of the legislative elections on Sunday 19 April promises to be high.

The facts - In this war-torn country, the abstention rate in the second round of the legislative elections on Sunday 19 April promises to be high. In addition to the fear of coronavirus, jihadists are threatening to strike voters and polling stations.

Maintaining the legislative elections, against all odds. Despite the fear of the jihadists, the kidnapping of the main opponent or the threat of the coronavirus, the majority of the political parties have chosen to support the electoral process defended by President Ibrahim Boubacar Keïta, who is calling on voters on Sunday 19 April to elect their deputies in the second round of voting. The stakes are high: to renew a parliament elected in 2013 and whose term of office was to end in 2018, and to finally make progress in the implementation of the Algiers peace agreement.

This agreement, signed in 2015 between the armed pro-independence groups and Bamako, provides for more decentralisation through a constitutional reform that must go through the Assembly. However, the legitimacy of the outgoing parliament is contested. Malians who question the ability of their leaders to bring the country out of war and poverty and who, moreover, run risks by going to the polls still need to be motivated.

Kidnappings in the first round

The first round on 29 March was marked by kidnappings of polling stations presidents and the theft and destruction of ballot boxes. In the rural areas of Timbuktu, jihadists conducted numerous intimidation raids on motorcycles. "Do not vote or you will have to deal with us," they told residents, according to an internal UN report.

About 1,000 of the more than 22,000 offices have not opened, the authorities admitted. In some regions of the north, the large turnout (more than 85% in Kidal for a national average of 35.6%, with deputies elected with 91% or 97% of the vote) suggests massive fraud. In the capital, participation was 12.9 per cent, a low turnout rate that is, however, the norm in Mali.

Of the 147 parliamentary seats, 22 were filled in the first round. Among them: Soumaïla Cissé, the opposition leader who was kidnapped on 25 March while campaigning. In the absence of any formal proof, all suspicions hang over Amadou Koufa's jihadist group. Secret negotiations are being held for his release, according to his party.

This unprecedented kidnapping did not deter the authorities from sticking to the electoral timetable, nor did the fortuitous simultaneous officialisation of the first cases of contamination by the new coronavirus. The campaign, already discreet, has since disappeared from the debates, apart from the posters that resist in Bamako.

A war that is getting bogged down

For several years now, violence has been striking daily in central and northern Mali and in neighbouring Burkina Faso and Niger. Attacks on soldiers and civilians alternate with explosions of artisanal mines, with thousands dead and hundreds of thousands displaced. Twenty-five soldiers, according to the government, were killed between the two rounds in an operation claimed by an al-Qaeda-affiliated group.

"In the centre and the north, will people be able to vote freely? In the centre, terrorist groups are threatening people "to dissuade them from voting," said Ibrahima Sangho, head of the Synergy mission, a platform of organisations that deploy election observers.

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