8 August 2018

Mali: A Repeat Duel for the Presidency

Photo: RFI/Gaëlle Laleix
(File photo).

As in 2013, veteran politicians Boubacar Keita and Soumaila Cisse will contest the second round of presidential elections in Mali. Both represent the old political class. What differences are there between them?

It is hot and cramped in the white tent erected next to President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita's campaign headquarters. It is also very loud, with people repeatedly shouting "IBK for president!" The 73-year-old head of state is making his first appearance after the announcement of the preliminary results of Mali's presidential elections on July 29. Hundreds of supporters cheer him on, while dozens of journalists wait to hear him speak. "I am leading with more than 41percent amid 24 candidates," the president says to huge applause. He then goes on to caution: "We have to convince everybody, especially those who still doubt that we are the best choice for Mali." The president seems much more at ease and is speaking much more clearly than he did in public appearances before the polls.

Keita, who studied history and international relations in Paris and Dakar, has been a central figure in Malian politics for decades. He was prime minister in the 1990s under then President Alpha Konare. He was parliamentary president for many years afterwards. In 2013 he was finally elected president.

"In Mali, even the little children know IBK," says Moussa Timbine, the general assembly's vice president and an IBK supporter. He describes the president as a tough boss: "If you work with him, you have to be very correct. He doesn't like people who lie or steal, or the whole corruption thing," Timbine told DW.

Opposition sticks to claims of vote rigging

IBK has until August 12 to win over those who didn't vote for him in the first round. That's the day he will face off against Soumaila Cisse from the Union for the Republic and Democracy (URD) in the second round of voting. Cisse won 17.8 percent of the vote on July 29. The atmosphere at his campaign headquarters - not far from the president's - is sober. "We know that the government did everything in their power to keep the voters from expressing their free will in the first round," says the 68-year-old opposition leader. "The results are not credible. They are a fraud," he adds.

Along with 17 other candidates, Cisse is calling for the dismissal of the minister for territorial administration, decentralization and regional planning, Soumeylou Boubeye Maiga. This is the ministry responsible for organizing elections and announcing results. The opposition also called on the constitutional court to investigate claims of vote rigging. The judges had until August 8 to rule on the matter.

Cisse: Forever number two

The second round feels like a repeat of the face off between Cisse and IBK in 2013. Then, IBK won more than 77 percent of the votes. Cisse congratulated his rival 24 hours after the polls closed, thereby admitting defeat. "He is really a very nice person," says his public relations advisor Nouhoum Togo. "But he is also very straightforward. If something is not working, he will tell you."

Wherever he is, at his campaign headquarters, at conferences or out campaigning, Cisse looks calm and collected. He is approachable, although he doesn't project the same statesmanlike aura as the president. But then that is not his strategy this time.

The software engineer, who studied in Dakar and Montpellier, doesn't want to come across as a statesmen but rather as an advocate of change.

Cisse has also belonged to the old political class since democratization in the 1990s. He was President Konare's Minister of Economics and Finances, and later headed the Ministry of Environment and Urbanization. At the time he worked closely with his present rival Keita, who was then prime minister. Both ran for president for the first time in 2002. It was the only time Cisse beat IBK, even if by a very slight margin of 4,000 votes. But Cisse was then defeated in the second round by Amadou Toumani Toure.

A businessman as kingmaker?

Public relations advisor Nouhoum Togo raises his voice when asked whether Cisse doesn't represent the old political class, just as Keita does: "Could a young person who has never done anything become president in Germany, just like that? What kind of country would that be?" Togo goes on to explain that change has to be logical and come in stages. Having served in several offices means Cisse has a lot of experience. And anyway, Togo concludes, Cisse's entourage is young and modern

Sekou Diabate has a different view of change. He leads the Democratic Alliance for Peace (ADP-Maliba) and is spokesman for the third-placed candidate, Aliou Diallo, who won 7.95 percent of votes. "We think that change has a better chance with Aliou Diallo. He entered politics only in 2013 and was not involved in the machinations of the past," Diabate says, when describing the man who is executive director of the mining company Wassoul'or, which operates a goldmine in Mali's south.

Diallo, who in 2013 supported IBK's candidacy, could become kingmaker. He is part of the opposition alliance that now wants to unite behind Cisse but his spokesman Sekou Diabate doesn't want to make any promises: "It is the duty of our candidate to make a decision which benefits our party, the ADP-Maliba, and his own candidacy," he says when asked about Diallo's plans.

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