Twenty ECOWAS Long-Term Observers (LTOs) have been deployed across four of Mali’s eight administrative regions and Bamako District, the nation’s capital, ahead of the country’s July 29 crucial presidential election.
The team made up of election operations, legal and constitutional experts, gender, civil society and communication specialists, and supported by a Technical Team from the ECOWAS Commission, will be observing various stages of the electoral processes in the Segou, Sikasso, Koulokoro and Kayes regions, and Bamako district.
Before their deployment, the LTOs were briefed on Tuesday 17th July, by the ECOWAS Special Representative to Mali, Amb. Cheaka Aboudou Toure, who gave a brief background to ECOWAS’ interventions towards the restoration of peace, democracy and good governance in the country.
He described Mali as an important country in the region, saying: “there might be challenges, but with great hope for a bright future for the country.”The LTOs, who were also given security briefings by an official of the UN Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission (MINUSMA), and the ECOWAS Standby Force personnel, will be joined on 24 July by 150 of their Short-term counterparts, making a total of 171-member ECOWAS Observation Mission, headed by Burkina’s former Prime Minister and ECOWAS Commission President, Kadre Desire Ouedraogo.
As part of their mandate, the LTOs, who have been on ground for more than one week are meeting with political stakeholders, including the Electoral Commission of Mali, CENI, the Constitutional Court, which is charged by the national constitution with the responsibility of announcing final results of the presidential vote, and the Ministry of Territorial Administration, which is in charge of the conduct of the polls.
The team will also consult with the High Authority for Communication, HAC, civil society organizations (CSOs), and the Ministry in charge of security. They will set up an Election Situation Room, provide analysis for early response or preventive diplomacy by ECOWAS authorities, if necessary, and also prepare the ground for the arrival of Short-term Observation Mission.
Mali’s incumbent president Ibrahim Boubacar Keita, 73, who took office in 2013 and is seeking a second five-year mandate, and opposition leader Soumaila Cisse, are frontrunners in the July 29 vote being contested by 24 candidates, including one female contestant, Madame Djeneba N’Diaye.
Some eight million Malians, made up of 4.1 million males and 3.89 million females are registered to vote in the 23,041 polling stations in 12,925 Voting Centres across the 748 Communes of the country’s eight administrative regions on 29 July.
One key challenge of the on-going electoral process is the slow distribution of voter registration cards, with officials putting the rate at under 45% by the end of last week. The electoral management authorities have, however, assured that the cards would be made available on polling day for registrants to use for balloting.
A candidate requires at least 50 percent plus one vote to win Mali’s presidency, failing which the two frontrunners go into a run-off contest.On a much wider scale, Mali, with an estimated population of 18 million, has been struggling with governance and insurgency challenges in its northern region since 2012.
International intervention led by ECOWAS resulted in the 2012 Algiers Political Peace Accord, which enabled the 2013 elections to take place, and this has been followed by the 2015 Peace and Recompilation Agreement, urging the rebels to end the conflict.
However, insecurity persists in the Kidal, Gao, Timbuktu and Mopti regions of the north and central regions, with MINUSMA and French troops providing a level of stability.
MINUSMA replaced the African Union-ECOWAS African-led International Support Mission to Mali (AFISMA), in July 2013.The ECOWAS Observation Mission to Mali, which includes Secretariat staff of the ECOWAS Network of Electoral Commission (ECONEC), is supported by the European Union (EU), the Danish International Development Agency (DANIDA), and the German Agency for International Cooperation (GIZ).