Battered Mali will vote again Aug. 11 as two veterans face off

Western nations have linked the elections – which follow Mali's brief war to oust Islamic militants in the north – to $4 billion in assistance. 

Joe Penney/REUTERS
Presidential candidate Ibrahim Boubacar Keita speaks in front of a picture of himself during a news conference in Bamako, Mali, August 4, 2013.

Mali’s first elections after French troops arrived in January to drive out Islamic radicals did not yield a first-round winner. The West African nation will put together a runoff vote on Aug. 11.

The two contenders for Mali’s top job, neither of whom received a clear majority of votes, are Ibrahim Boubacar Keita, the former prime minister, and Soumaila Cissé, the former finance minister. 

The United Nations has called the elections – the first since the brief war with radical Islamists, and the first for president since a coup toppled Mali’s twice-elected government in March 2012 – a critical first step in putting the war-torn county back together. They also linked them to the release of $4 billion in aid.

Mr. Keita, known locally by his initials, IBK, and who is rumored to be the preferred choice among some French and international diplomats, secured 39 percent of the first-round vote on July 28, which saw a record turnout of 51 percent.

Mr. Cissé, a veteran political insider who has run for president before and has served as head of the West African Monetary Union, took 19 percent. Both men are firmly entrenched in Mali’s often-maligned political class.

The announcement of the totals eased tensions in the capital of Bamako, which had grown steadily last week after Col. Moussa Sinko Coulibaly, minister of territorial administration, held a chaotic press conference stating that Keita was likely to win the first round outright.

When only a third of the votes had been counted, several news outlets began reporting a Keita victory as all but inevitable.

Keita’s supporters, in turn, took the streets chanting “IBK” and “Takokelen,” which means “one round” in the local Bambara tongue. 

Cissé supporters immediately cried foul, and his campaign officials cited implausible margins of Keita victories in and around Bamako as evidence of “massive fraud.”

Cissé said he would reject the election results should they not go to a second round, a threat muted by the official announcement last Friday.

While IBK’s supporters expressed disappointment at his failure to win in the first round, campaign officials said Thursday their internal polls suggested a second round was coming.

Keita served as Mali’s prime minister for much of the 1990s and twice ran unsuccessfully for president. He was parliamentary speaker during the first term of ousted president Amadou Toumani Touré.

Analysts describe Keita as the preferred choice of France and the Malian military, including some of the recent architects of the coup. He also enjoys the endorsement of a network of influential and well-financed Muslim leaders who have earlier refrained from public endorsements.

Though he is the front-runner, Keita’s path to 51 percent is by no means clear. His opponent, Cissé, is a veteran insider who has served as finance minister and head of the West African Monetary Union.

Like Keita, Cissé rose to prominence in Mali’s largest political party, ADEMA-PASJ, running as its presidential candidate in 2002. After losing that election to recently deposed Amadou Toumani Touré, Cissé fell out with ADEMA-PASJ and formed his own party in 2003.

Both candidates will need to build coalitions if they hope to win the Aug. 11 vote. Cissé is already part of a coalition that has pledged to back him. But he was dealt a blow over the weekend when Dramane Dembélé, who finished third, threw his personal support behind Keita, despite the fact that Dembélé’s party backs Cissé.

A collective of seven young rising candidates also pledged support for Keita.

With millions not voting in round one, and several hundred thousand ballots rejected, analysts expect the runup to Aug. 11 vote to be full of the dealmaking and the promising of favors that has come to define Malian politics. 

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