26 July 2013

Mali's Familiar Faces Jostling for Power

Not newcomers, but establishment veterans appear to be making the running in the Malian elections. Voters appear unconcerned, they just want a legitimate government.

Music blares from the loudspeakers in Gao's Independence Square. Until January of this year, the city in the north of Mali was under Islamist rule. But now a group of women are dancing in the middle of the sandy square. All are wearing the same bright blue skirts and T-shirts, imprinted with the face of presidential candidate Modibo Sidibe. The man himself is on his way to Gao, one of the last stops on his campaign tour through Mali.

The 61-year-old is a familiar face in Malian politics. In the 1990s, he was closely associated with the then President Alpha Oumar Konare. Later he was a key figure in the administration of President Amadou Toumani Toure, who was toppled in March 2012. But Toure, known as ATT in Mali, is as good as forgotten in Independence Square. It's Sidibe that everybody is waiting for. Local resident Mahamadou Maiga told Deutsche Welle he had been patiently waiting in the square for hours. "Our president is coming. The whole of the city is here," he said, his face beaming with delight.

Elections unlikely to lead to change

Modibo Sidibe isn't the president, he is only one of 27 candidates standing for election on Sunday (28.07.2013). Two other presidential hopefuls are Ibrahim Boubacar Keita and Soumaila Cisse. These three have one thing in common. They are all veteran Malian politicians. "They are, in the final analysis, representatives of the old political establishment," said Annette Lohmann, head of the Malian branch of Germany's Friedrich Ebert Foundation in Bamako. "They are not players who are about to usher in change," she added.

The elections became more or less unavoidable after the coup on March 22, 2012 in which a group of junior officers led by Captain Amadou Sanogo toppled President Toure. He had been in power for 10 years. Following pressure from the international community, the junta was replaced by an interim government. It proved to be weak in its first months in power and the country stagnated, politically and economically.

Period of transition should end

Bintou Coulibaly hopes that there will be a change for the better after the elections. "We want the transition period to end. We want a proper president," the Malian national told Deutsche Welle. It doesn't seem to worry her that most of the politicians belong to the old guard. Policies are barely mentioned. "The main thing is that we get out of the crisis," said Coulibaly. She was not prepared to reveal which candidate she believes is best suited to the task. "Voter confidentiality," she replied, smiling.

In the office where they are running Soumalia Cisse's campaign, all the promotional gimmicks - pencils, bowls, hats and ties - are ready to be handed out to prospective votes. But it turns out that they don't attract much attention or interest .

However, Malick Toure, honorary president of Cisse's party, the Union for the Republic and Democracy, does his best to drum up support for the 64-year-old presidential candidate, praising his knowledge of the economy. "He was finance minister. The budget he presided over was far healthier than that of any of his successors." Cisse deserves to be right at the top, Toure proclaimed . "It is the president who takes decisions. Cisse has not yet had the chance to shoulder this responsibility. He can put Mali back on its feet," he added.

Malian unity is an election issue

Whatever Cisse's qualifications may be, there is another figure whose face is seen even more frequently on election placards and banners on the streets of Gao. He is Ibrahim Boubacar Keita, also known as IBK. The former prime minister and parliamentary speaker is regarded as the favorite in this election. Sitting at the wheel of his yellow Mercedes, taxi driver Laasana Coulibaly veritably beams when he drives past an IBK placard. "I love IBK. He only has say to something once and the whole world is behind him." For this taxi driver, this is the faculty that Mali needs in a president. It symbolizes strength.

Keita's most significant message during the campaign was that Mali is one country, it cannot be torn apart. This issue has been preoccupying people in the north - still troubled by violence - so Keita may well have struck a chord with the electorate here.

He is also believed to have good contacts in France, the former colonial power that sent in an intervention force to drive back the Islamísts. It is, however, unlikely that any one candidate will emerge the sole victor after the July 28 poll. A run-off has already been penciled in for August 11.

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