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Legislative elections in Mali: "The North voted more than usual", according to Minusma

Credit: Mande Infos/ MINUSMA.

Thanks to the support of Minusma, the second round of legislative elections was held as planned on Sunday 19 April, despite the coronavirus pandemic. During a videoconference from Bamako, Kacou Assoukpe, Director of Electoral Affairs, commented for Sputnik France on the security conditions in which the elections took place.

"Some people wondered why Minusma (United Nations Integrated Multidimensional Stabilisation Mission in Mali) is supporting the government in this period of coronavirus. Let me say at the outset: UNMISMA is implementing UN Security Council Resolution 2480 and supporting the Malian government in the organisation of the elections," said Kacou Assoukpe, Director of Electoral Affairs, in his introductory remarks on Thursday 23 April during a videoconference from the headquarters of the UN mission in Bamako.

In the midst of the global coronavirus pandemic and the continuing security crisis in the north and centre of the country, Malian voters went to the polls again on Sunday, 19 April. After the first round on Sunday, 29 March, they still had 125 deputies left to elect out of the 147 members of the Malian National Assembly. The decision to maintain these elections at all costs was deemed "risky" by most commentators, but made necessary by President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita's commitment to renew the National Assembly as part of the ongoing inclusive national dialogue. 22 deputies were elected in the first round in 12 constituencies, eight of which are in the north of the country. Among them is the leader of the opposition, Soumaïla Cissé, who chairs the Union for Renewal and Development (URD). He was re-elected in his constituency in Niafunké despite being kidnapped by a jihadist group on 25 March.

"All precautions have been taken."

According to a press release from the Ministry of Health and Social Affairs on 22 April, Mali has recorded a peak of 35 new positive cases of coronavirus, 12 of which were in Minusma. "This brings the total number of Covid-19 positive people in the country to 293, with a total of 73 cured cases and 17 deaths, including seven in the care services for the sick," the statement said.

For his part, Minusma spokesman Olivier Segbo said that a total of 26 UN staff members have been contaminated by Covid-19. "They have been placed in isolation and are receiving adequate care in Bamako," he added, adding that two cases have now been cured. Announced two weeks ago, the suspension of Minusma's airlines, "except for cargo transport and medical emergencies", has just been renewed for two weeks. And, in the camps, measures have also been reinforced with the multiplication of hand washing facilities, biweekly disinfection of sanitary facilities, permanent contact with local Covid-19 response teams, "but also the closure of collective places or places of worship," he added.

"Minusma supports the Malian government in relation to its mandate and on the basis of the requests it has kindly submitted to Minusma. Of course, UNMISMA has taken measures to help limit the spread of the virus in the various centres and polling stations," said Kacou Assoukpe.

Despite the difficulties caused by the pandemic, UNMISMA accomplished its mission "technically, logistically and safely," he insisted. Patrols have been organized at the same time as escorts of equipment. Rapid deployment of peacekeepers was also put in place wherever necessary. "The Mission also took part in the various working committees at the level of the ministries involved in the organisation of the elections," he said.

"Observers of the election process concluded that it went fairly well throughout the country. However, we noted that 691 polling stations could not be opened for several reasons: insecurity and the destruction of election materials by negative forces. These figures will be confirmed when the provisional results are announced," explained the electoral affairs director of the MINUSMA.

Certifying that the agents deployed on the ground "had not noted any serious incidents" in any of the country's high-risk regions, he also revealed that MINUSMA had made projections from 547 polling stations "which we consulted every two hours during the poll," he said.

"We were also able to observe trends in the hours and days following the election. I will not announce these trends because that is not our mission. It is up to the Ministry of Territorial Administration, with which we interacted during this period, to do so," he warned. In response to Sputnik France's question as to whether the fear of being contaminated by Covid-19 had not strongly dissuaded Malian voters from going to the polls, he agreed to answer, but exclusively on the rate of participation during these elections, referring back to the Malian authorities for the proclamation of the results.

High turnout in the Centre and North

On Thursday 23 April, the Malian Ministry of Territorial Administration effectively made public the provisional results of the second round of these 2020 legislative elections. According to these initial trends, the Rassemblement pour le Mali (RPM-presidential party) is largely in the lead, followed by Adema, its ally, and then Soumaïla Cissé's URD. The official provisional results (Ministry of Territorial Administration), followed by the final results of the Constitutional Court (with the settlement of numerous disputes), should be announced in the coming days. In the first round, the presidential party lists won in Kidal. In the three constituencies of Tessalit, Tin-Essako and Abeibara, the candidates' scores even exceeded 87%. In Bamako, the RPM and its allies came out ahead in four out of six communes. The turnout rate was 35.33%, according to these provisional results. A figure that was confirmed by the MINUSMA on the basis of the 547 polling stations that took part.

"If we compare this figure with the 2013 legislative elections, where the participation rate was 38%, we can see that we are not very far off. Except in the North, as in Kidal where this time, nearly 60% of voters went out to vote, one of the highest rates ever recorded, the range, since 1992, has always been below 40%," commented Kacou Assoukpe.

In Bamako, on the other hand, turnout was low with only 13% of registered voters going to the first round for fear of the pandemic. In the central regions, on the other hand, those with the most intra-community conflicts, such as Mopti, turnout rates are "between 40 and 50%", according to the head of electoral affairs at Minusma. However, it is also where there is the greatest number of non-functional offices "nearly 260 out of the 691 that the MINUSMA has reported," he added.

Closure of borders with Algeria

On Thursday 16 April, Mahamat Saleh Annadif, Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General in Mali, was the one who took part in the question-and-answer game during the weekly Minusma videoconference. He had also stressed the support given to the Malian authorities from the first round to make the elections possible.

"Some 14 tons of election materials (sensitive and non-sensitive) and 200 government supervisors were transported, at their request, to the northern and central regions of the country by MINUSMA. In addition, 71 logistics assistants were moved by road as well as nearly 1,000 prefects and sub-prefects in the circles," announced the head of MINUSMA.

A total of 62 tonnes of material was transported between the first and second rounds - by air and by land - to cover the needs at the polling stations. Welcoming the full cooperation with the Malian authorities, including to contain the coronavirus during the vote, he called on his colleagues to adopt an attitude of extreme caution in their movements "so that we can continue to deliver," he said.

"We have seen it in Timbuktu, Gao and even Tessalit, which today has many difficulties like Kidal because these two regions are neighbours of Algeria, which has closed its borders. There are supply problems. We are coordinating all this with the Malian authorities so that there is as little contamination as possible," Mahamat Saleh Annadif warned.

As to whether UNMISMA is able to confirm reports that the opposition leader was kidnapped by the Movement for the Liberation of the Massina of Amadou Kouffa, the head of the UN organisation declined to comment. "In the absence of any claim, I invite you to address yourself to the Malian authorities, who are the only ones handling this case," he replied to Sputnik France's question.

The author is Christine H. Gueye, journalist at Sputnik France.

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