Mali has been hit with chronic political unrest and uncertainty, but as voters head to the polls on Sunday, they brim with hope that this will be put to an end. The economic conditions in the country have plummeted, and voters hope the election outcome will put a resolve to this. So what really matters in this election, and what could be the outcome of the process?
The election has a chaotic background. Six years ago, a military coup ousted Amadou Toumani Tour. But in the aftermath of that, separatist rebel groups seized control of two-thirds of the northern parts of Mali, and pandemonium became the hallmark of Mali's political arena. Attacks in the region became intensified, and it only took the efforts of the French troops to push them back, as they were using the Sahel region their hub for attacks.
Democratic power was restored a year later through the ballot, with Ibrahim Boubacar Keita (IBK) becoming the president of the fragmented country. In order to address the security issues in the country, Keita signed a peace deal with the rebel groups in 2015, but the substantiation of the peace agreements has been an uphill task, dashing hopes of stability in the process. Thus, a delicate atmosphere of fragile security lingers in Mali, in the wake of continued violent attacks, mainly in the country's north and central regions.
The election will see a large constituent of the population - the youth casting their votes, and braving threats to credibility of the election. Violence has been feared to put things into disarray. More than 60% of the Malians are under the age of 25. People are really hoping for a smooth, peaceful transition of political power since 2007.
Issues like security, poverty, economy and job creation are some of the most crucial as Malians prepare to cast their votes. Mali ranks 175th, out of 188 countries, on the United Nations Human Development Index for 2016. Despite Mali being the third largest producer of gold in Africa, it is still one of the world's poorest countries where food insecurities, and massive financial troubles are rife.
Whoever gets into power faces the monstrosity of these problems, including perennial security problems. The current government has shown little zeal to tackle this problem and in essence, it is politically weak. The legitimacy of the election is a matter of huge importance, according to Keita, the country's president. "There are places that are not under the control of the government and the question will be whether elections will be held in those places," Ibrahim said, asking,"what would be the legitimacy of the government if they are not held"?
There are concerns that there will be low voter turnout and voter apathy is reigning supreme. The democratic distress will probably push voters away. In West Africa, turnout averages 62%. But in Mali it is low, with the 2013 elections recording a 45% turnout. The unending violence in the country will dissuade others from casting their votes. The low turnout can also be attributed to Malians' perception of the current government and how they are handling key issues in the country. The latest Afrobarometer survey shows that Malians have little faith in the government and are dissatisfied with it.
The election outcome is probably tilted in favour of the incumbent, Ibrahim Boubacar Keita. He has the advantage of vast state resources, control of state media and patronage networks. No sitting president has lost an election in Mali. Low voter turnout will also work in his favour. Twenty-four candidates have hopes of becoming president, but the strong opposition comes from Soumaïla Cissé, Dramane Dembélé, and Cheick Modibo Diarra - who all lost in the 2013 elections.
Ibrahim Boubacar Keita has really struggled to mend the wounds of the divided nation. He takes little action on what is destroying the nation - corruption, the security issue and his government's administrative paralysis. Without French troops doing all they can to maintain the little that remains respectable in the country, an adviser to Mali’s constitutional court warns that "everything will fall apart within two weeks".
With this election, where so much is at stake, will things improve? If Keita wins, will there be a will to change the fortunes of Mali? If one of the opposition candidates wins, will he heal this nation and bring peace and prosperity?
Header image credit: Africa News