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Mali election optimism

Katrin Gänsler /skJuly 18, 2013

Mali wants to put the crisis behind it and move on. The election of a new president on 28 July is an important step in the process of restoring democracy.

Sangare Nana Coulibaly holds up her voting card Photo: Katrin Gänsler
Image: DW/K.Gänsler

Sangare Nana Coulibaly did not have to rummage too long in her large hand bag. With one tug she holds up her voting card - "the Nina card" (Nina stands for National Identification Number). "This card is very important to me," says the 58 year-old as she once again casts a critical eye on it. All the information is correct. Every Malian should feel this way, she says. "I would like to call on everyone and say 'Go get your Nina! that's what we need to vote and determine who we want to become president.'"

The Nina card has also been heavily criticised. Just a few weeks ago, even the Electoral Commission was saying it would not be possible to print the cards in time for the first round of voting on 28 July. Sangare Nana Coulibaly can only shake her head at such pessimism. "There was some trouble at the beginning but in my neighborhood in Bamako, there was no problem," she said.

Issaga Kampo vice president of the Independent National Commission at his desk Photo: Katrin Gänsler
Issaga Kampo, vice president of the Independent National Commission, says preparations are going wellImage: DW/K.Gänsler

Relief at the Electoral Commission

Praise should go to CENI, the Independent National Electoral Commission, which is responsible for the smooth conduct of the elections. Issaga Kampo, CENI's first vice-president, appears relieved. There are still some days to go before the elections. ""More than 70 percent of voters already have their cards. We could reach about 80 percent," Kampo predicts. In his view, this number also means that the turnout on 28 July could be around 50 percent. That sounds fairly low. But for Mali it would not be a bad rate, as expectatations were much lower just a few weeks ago.

International money returns

Many Malians were angered by the decision to hold elections so early. Since the coup in March 2012, the West African country has had no legitimate government. As a consequence, international donors put pressure on the country. It was only the pledge that elections would be held that started the money flowing again. Nevertheless many people feel they are being dictated to and say the international community should give the country more time to prepare for the return to democracy.

The elections do have some weak points. Around 282,000 internally displaced people (IDPs) live in southern Mali. They left the north in 2012 when the Movement for the Liberationn of Azawad (MNLA) attacked , followed by other islamist groups. The north is now widely back under state control but only few people have returned .The IDPs continue to live in camps in various parts of the country. Anyone living as a refugee in the capital Bamako has no chance to vote. "People applied for their cards in their original places of residence," explains CENI Vice President Kampo. But no one would travel to Gao or Timbuktu just to pick up their Nina.

Bill boards advertising the voting card Photo:Katrin Gänsler
Bill boards advertising the electoral voting card can be seen all over Bamako.Image: DW/K.Gänsler

Voting in refugee camps

Another solution has been found for neighboring Mauritania, Burkina Faso and Niger. Around 175,000 Malians fled there. Many of them live in camps in which ballot boxes will be placed on voting day. However, turnout in the camps is expected to be low. "In my opinion, people have other problems, such as finding accommodation and food, Voting is not a priority," Kampo said.

That could also apply to the northern city of Kidal. Unlike other cities it was not recaptured from the rebels in January 2013 but was in the hands of the MNLA until mid-June. Voting should also take place there but local newspapers report frequent demonstrations by people opposed to this.

Governor 'will vote in Kidal'

Governor Aadama Kamissoko is,however, optimistic. " We will vote and I will vote in Kidal," he stressed. 1,000 voting cards have been distributed and he says there are many people who want to vote.

Back in Bamako, Sangare Nana Coulibaly has put her voting card safely back in her bag. She would like to vote as soon as possible. "The people here are looking forward so much to the elections," she said. "we wish for that more than anxything else."