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Mali – Expert Briefing

  • The president is elected by absolute majority vote through a two-round system to serve a five year term. The head of the state can serve a maximum of two five year terms.
  • Rassemblement pour le Mali/Rally for Mali (RPM) is the ruling party. It holds 66 of the 147 seats in Mali’s unicameral National Assembly.
  • The prime minister is appointed by the president.
  • In Mali, three institutions are responsible for the electoral process: the Ministry of Territorial Administration, the National Electoral Commission (CENI) and the Direction Générale des Elections (DGE). While the CENI supervises the electoral process and ensures compliance with the electoral law, the DGE is in charge of updating and maintaining the voters’ roll as well as designing and printing electoral cards.
  • Presidential elections are scheduled for July 2018.
  • Follow the presidential campaign on Twitter using the hashtag #Mali2018

Mali gained independence from France in 1960. Eight years later, a bloodless coup led by General Moussa Traoré succeeded in setting up a 14-member Military Committee for National Liberation (CMLN). Traoré banned all political activity and remained in charge of the country until he was deposed in a 1991 coup. In 1974, the government introduced a new constitution and organised single-party presidential elections five years later which automatically granted Traoré a six-year term as president. He was re-elected in 1985, standing as the sole candidate. Following a series of violent popular protests in 1991, Traoré was removed from power by a bloodless coup and was succeeded by a transitional government led by Lt. Col. Amadou Toumani Touré (ATT).

After 15 months, a new constitution paved the way for presidential and multi-party elections in 1992 which saw Mali return to civilian rule.  The victor, Alpha Oumar Konaré, served the maximum two terms and was succeeded in 2002 by ATT, who had resigned from the army to become Mali’s second democratically-elected president. The 2002 election was a milestone. Despite widespread electoral irregularities and low voter turnout, it marked Mali’s first successful transition. For the next decade, the country was regarded as stable “beacon of democracy” in the region.

Since the spring of 2011 Mali’s political landscape has been drastically transformed. A Tuareg rebellion in the north proclaimed independence and, just a few months later, a military coup deposed ATT. While the military leaders of the coup and a newly established transitional government were attempting to reorganise the state, a jihadist takeover of northern Mali prompted intervention by French and West African troops.

The presidential election in 2013 was widely seen as a poll that could restore stability and peace to the country, although many in areas most affected by the security situation were unable to vote. Twenty-seven candidates competed for the presidency, with Ibrahim Boubacar Keita (IBK) convincingly winning in a second round against Soumaila Cissé, a former minister of finance, by taking 77.6% of the vote. The election saw relatively high voter turnout of 47%, against a historic average of 37%, and was praised by international observers as being free, fair and transparent. After a long political career that included terms as prime minister and president of the National Assembly, IBK was viewed as a strong man with the authority to put an end to the fifth Tuareg rebellion Mali had experienced since independence.

Despite high expectations of IBK, Mali has continued to struggle with political and security crises and his government has been accused of pervasive corruption. Even though the president has not at the time of writing officially announced whether he will run for office again in 2018, close allies consider his candidacy and victory a near certainty, given the divided opposition.

In March 2015, a law institutionalised and provided official status to opposition parties in parliament, giving them the ability to choose an official leader of the opposition (chef de file de l’opposition). The same month, Soumaila Cissé, runner-up in the 2013 presidential poll, was elected to this post. According to the law, the chef de file must be kept informed of, and be consulted by, the president on matters of national importance.

Further changes to Mali’s electoral dispensation followed in September 2015 when a new electoral code was voted through the National Assembly. The code more than triples the deposit required by presidential candidates from 10 million CFA (US$18,000) to 35 million CFA (US$62,000). In addition, to validate a candidacy with the Constitutional Court, one must obtain the formal support of ten members of parliament and five national counsellors in charge of local and regional development.

The 2018 presidential campaign is likely to focus on the implementation of the Algiers Peace Agreement signed in 2015 between the Malian government and rebel factions; the ongoing fight against the terrorist threat; and economic governance. Whoever is elected, the main challenge will be to rebuild a central government that that has remained weak and lacks the ability to exercise authority across the entirety of the country.

Kamissa Camara is Africa Director at PartnersGlobal and a non-resident Fellow with the Center for African Studies at Harvard University. She tweets @kamissacamara