The Bridges Institute (Washington, DC)

10 August 2013

Mali: Making History at the Ballot Box with Second Poll in Two Weeks

Photo: Vivian Lowery Derryck
Voters use SMS to locate polling stations during July 28 presidential voting.

analysis

Mali stands to make history on Sunday.

Only two weeks ago, this war-torn, bitterly divided country held a well-organized, orderly election without violence or major incident. I was honored to be an observer to the July 28 presidential poll through the International Republican Institute (IRI).

On that sunny Sunday, some voters couldn't find their polling stations and turnout in the north was low and almost non-existent in most refugee camps. But Malians were determined to run an efficient, transparent, orderly poll - and they succeeded!

Guided by a comprehensive electoral law, polls in most places opened and closed on time, while voting usually took as little as two minutes. Party representatives and observers were able to watch the counting process and accompany election commissioners as election officials conveyed the vote tallies to the tabulation centers.

In the short, three-week campaign prior to the election, the candidates modeled civility as they followed the electoral law and focused on issues and reconciling the north rather than personal attacks. (We could learn a lesson from Mali's candidates here in the United States.) Voter turnout was the highest in Mali's history - 51.54 percent, versus 36 percent who voted in 2007. To be declared winner, one of the 27 presidential candidates had to receive at least 50.1 percent of total votes.

Although Ibraham Boubacar Keita - a former prime minister known as IBK - took an early lead and his supporters started to celebrate victory, the final count showed him with 39.23 percent, followed by  a former finance minister, Soumaila Cissé, with 19.44 percent. So the run-off was scheduled.

Though many IBK partisans were disgruntled, Malians across the board accepted the results and turned their attention to the next round - another testament to a widespread commitment to the democratic process and rule of law.

The Constitutional Court announced the run-off on August 2 and certified the July 28 results on August 7. Incredible as it may seem, the vote to select a new president is taking place only four days after that certification. Ballots have been printed and distributed, the eight-day, second-campaign period is over, more national identification (NINA) cards have been distributed, and Malians are voting again to decide their troubled country's future.

Mali will make history simply by having held two national elections in two weeks. Every action that increases the legitimacy of the process strengthens acceptance of the outcome.

The second round may build on the success of the first if the candidates agree to accept the outcome and if more refugees and internally displaced people have the option to vote. Allowing more observers -  domestic poll watchers but international ones as well - would add another layer of integrity to the final tabulation.

On July 28, Mali showed the world what dedicated, talented citizens could achieve in a very limited time. Working with Economic Community of West African States (Ecowas), the African Union, the United Nations, donors, international civil society and friends of good will, Mali accomplished a peaceful, judicially correct election whose outcome met international standards - but more important, was validated and respected by Malians.

Malians and friends of Mali celebrated that achievement against formidable odds. I look forward to another celebration as Malians move forward to re-establish democratic governance in their fabled country.

Vivian Lowery Derryck is President and CEO of The Bridges Institute. The views expressed here are her own and do not represent positions of the International Republican Institute or Mali Watch, a short-term non-partisan coalition of civil society, private sector and Malians in the U.S. committed to the restoration of democratic governance in Mali, which she chairs.

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