Amidst one of the world’s worst pandemics ever the Malians on Sunday 29th of March 2020 proceeded to have their polls and held their long-delayed parliamentary elections. The polls had been delayed since 2018 because of insecurity caused by the constant battling between the Malian army and the militants in the north.
There is still insecurity in the country because of the abduction of Malian opposition leader Soumaila Cisse by suspected Islamist militants. Despite all this uncertainty and the outbreak of covid19 which has the world at a standstill, the Malian polls proceeded as planned.
The west African nation has a very vulnerable healthcare system that can easily be overwhelmed by an outbreak of the covid19 on a large scale. Mali already has confirmed cases of coronavirus. Unlike the rest of the world which has resorted to full-on lockdown Mali has taken a different approach as they have just imposed a curfew between 2100hrs and 0500hrs. The move to proceed with the polls despite being delayed seemed reckless in the face of covid19 which already has recorder over 700,000 cases worldwide. Sunday’s polls came hours after the West African country recorded its first coronavirus death.
The firm decision to proceed with the polls despite the covid19 outbreak and insecurity issues was said to have been made as an urgent step towards leading the west African state out of its spiral of violence and closer to a political solution to stop the bloodshed. The last parliamentary election was held in 2013 which saw President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita’s Rally for Mali party win a substantial majority. The polls are recorded to have a subsequent round scheduled for 19th April 2020. These voting rounds have been implemented because of about 200,00 people who have been displaced by near-daily violence in Mali’s center and north. This displacement leaves a lot of people highly unlikely to be able to vote hence the need for a subsequent voting round for people to cast their votes.
This clearly shows that despite the pandemic that covid19 is other countries still have internal problems that require urgent attention. The question of how reckless the government of Mali was in possibly exposing its citizens to a possible outbreak of the covid19 virus, needs to be answered after carefully taking into account the gravity and possible impact of these general elections. Mali needs to head towards peace and national dialogue and the President that keeping these elections in abeyance will only prolong and longstanding problem that has been in the country since 2012.
The government put in place safety measures including distribution of hand sanitizers and availing water for washing of hands. Masks were also made available in the country’s capital of Bamako. Although measures were put into place, the voters had to commute to polling stations and the human interaction could lead to possible exposure and further spread of covid19.
It was reported however that the polls saw a low turnout of voters. It is quite clear that the citizens being worried about the insecurity of ongoing altercations between the national army and militants have also become scared of an enemy invisible to the naked eye in covid19.
The duration of withholding of ballot papers whilst awaiting the second round of April 19th is also one that might lead to questions about the integrity of the results. Furthermore, with most people not turning out to cast their votes it is going to be hard to endorse the elections as a true reflection of the will of the Malian people. It was reported that voter turnout was extremely low. A group of observers from civil society associations said by midday, voter turnout at a number of stations they visited was 7.5%. Out of 12,500 polling stations, 274 were unable to open, according to the Ministry of Security and Civil Protection.
Mali was faced with a hard decision which they made. There is a global pandemic killing thousands that the world is trying to contain whilst at the same time a war is raging and lives are being lost within Mali. The leadership was stuck between a rock and a hard place. Indeed, heavy is the head that wears the crown because a decision had to be made, we just hope all the measures the government took to curb the further spread of the covid19 were effective.