Preliminary Results from Malian Elections Announced while Togo’s Opposition Party Rejects Parliamentary Election ResultsJuly 31, 2013 in Africa, Mali, Togo
While official results from Sunday’s presidential elections in Mali are not expected to be announced until Friday, the country’s interim government has stated that initial results indicate that Mali’s ex-Prime Minister Ibrahim Boubakar Keita has a clear lead in the polls that are intended to restore democratic rule in Mali. Meanwhile in Togo’s opposition party has rejected the ruling party’s win in the recent Parliamentary vote.
With a third of the votes counted in Mali’s presidential elections, the country’s interim government has stated on Tuesday that former Prime Minister Keita is expected to win the elections, with former Finance Minister Soumalia Cisse expected to gain second place. Col Moussa Sinko Coulibaly, the Minister of Territorial Administration, stated to journalists in the capital city of Bamako that “there is one candidate, Ibrahim Boubacar Keita, who has a wide margin compared with other candidates…. If maintained, there will not be a need for a second round.” Mr. Cisse’s camp however has rejected the results, calling for an international commission to count the ballots that were case in Sunday’s poll. His spokesman, Amadou Koita, has called the announcement “scandalous” and has questioned why Col Coulibaly refused to provide figures to back up his statement. International observers have urged Malians to accept the outcome of the elections while Ivory Coast President Alassane Ouattara, who is the current head of the regional Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), has expressed confidence that the Malian contenders will accept the voters‘ choice.
The announcement of a possible winner in Mali’s critical presidential elections comes just days after France hailed the elections as a success. The European Union also indicated on Monday that the elections had gone well and that they had been marked by enthusiasm amongst voters despite threats from Islamist terrorists that polling stations throughout the country would be attacked.
Sunday’s vote was the first election to be held since an uprising by Tuareg separatists sparked a military coup in March of last year, which toppled democratically elected President Amadou Toumani Toure and effectively plunged the country into a political crisis which opened the way for Islamist militants to occupy the vast northern desert regions for ten months before being ousted by a French-led military offensive that was launched in January of this year. The presidential elections are seen as critical in not only completing the transition towards a democracy but also in maintaining stability and security.
On Monday, Togo’s main opposition rejected the provisional electoral results which showed that the ruling party won two-thirds of the parliamentary seats, effectively allowing the current President’s family to maintain its decades-long grip on power. Although the full elections results of the country’s parliamentary elections were announced by the Electoral Commission on Sunday night, Togo’s main opposition coalition, Let’s Save Togo, had already alleged earlier in the day that irregularities had occurred during the elections. The following day, Agbeyome Kodjo, a key figure within the Let’s Save Togo party, called the vote and results a “sham,” stating that “its an electoral sham amid massive corruption and proven electoral fraud.” The West African nation’s constitutional court must now approve the results from Thursday’s elections before they can become final.
According to results that were released by the Electoral Commission on Sunday evening, President Faure Gnassingbe’s UNIR party won 62 of the 91 seats, giving the party a two-thirds majority in Parliament. If the results are approved by the constitutional court, the President’s party will effectively have control over an even greater percentage of seats than it currently holds. During the 2007 legislative elections, the UNIR party won 50 of 81 seats. The closest opposition party was Let’s Save Togo, which won 19 seats. During Thursday’s elections, the UNIR performed particularly well in the northern region of the country, which is its traditional stronghold. Meanwhile Let’s Save Togo is stronger in the south, winning seven of the ten seats in the capital city of Lome. The second-largest opposition group in the elections, the Rainbow coalition, obtained six seats in Parliament. In a statement that was released late on Monday, the party also rejected the results of the polls, alleging that “several serious anomalies and cases of massive fraud” were recorded during the elections.
Despite the opposition coalition stating that there were irregularities that occurred during the elections, observers from the African Union (AU) and West African bloc ECOWAS have stated that the elections were held in acceptable conditions. In turn, the United States Embassy in Togo congratulated the Electoral Commission on Monday on the peaceful outcome of the elections, urging all the political parties to “respect the wish of the Togolese people.” A statement released by the US Embassy stated that “we urge all the political parties to respect the wish of the Togolese people and resolve all differences in a peaceful manner, in conformity with the electoral law.” The Embassy also urged that the new national assembly undertake the strengthening of democracy and to work for a more prosperous future for the Togolese.
The long-delayed vote came after months of protests, with the opposition coalition seeking to bring about sweeping electoral reforms. Many of the protests were dispersed by security forces who fired tear gas into the crowds, while some thirty-five people, mostly opposition members, were detained in the run-up to the vote in connection with a number of suspicious fires that had occurred at two major markers. Thirteen opposition members have since been released, including five candidates who participated in Thursday’s polls. Over the coming days, as the results of the elections are either confirmed or denied by the constitutional court, it is highly likely that protests may break out if it is announced that the current President’s party has won a majority of the seats in Parliament.
Heads of states in West Africa have called for the deployment of an international naval force that will aid in curbing the growing threat of piracy off the Gulf of Guinea. There are currently more pirate attacks occurring off the coast of West Africa than in the waters off Somalia, which used to be a piracy hotspot. Patrols by foreign warships, as part of the European Union’s and Nato’s anti-piracy operations, have reduced attacks by Somali pirates, with the last successful vessel hijacking occurring thirteen months ago. Piracy off Somalia decreased by 78% in 2012 when compared with 2011. With Somali piracy significantly on the decline, mainly due to increased patrolling of the waters coupled with the presence of security teams on board vessels transiting through the region and better practices by the ship’s captains and crew, leaders in West African states are increasingly looking into the possibilities of deploying international navies in order to manage the issue.
Speaking at a meeting of West and Central African leaders in Cameroon’s capital Yaounde, the Ivory Coast’s President Alassane Ouattara highlighted that the growing threat from piracy in the region resulted in a need for the issue to be tackled with “firmness.” He further indicated that “I urge the international community to show the same firmness in the Gulf of Guinea as displayed in the Gulf of Aden, where the presence of international naval forces has helped to drastically reduce acts of piracy.” Cameroon’s President Paul Biya also noted that it was vital to respond to the threat and to protect shipping routes and the economic interests of the region.
According to statistics released by the International Maritime Bureau (IMB), for the first time, more pirate attacks were reported in the Gulf of Guinea than off the coast of Somalia, in which about 960 sailors were attacked in West Africa in 2012, compared with 851 that occurred in the waters off Somalia. However while attack numbers have sharply decreased in Somalia, at least 78 hostages are still being held captive by Somali pirates. Some of them have been held for long periods of time. A number of security sources have indicated that waters off the coast of Nigeria, which is Africa’s largest oil producer, have the highest risk of pirate activity in the region.
Although pirates in West Africa typically only steal fuel cargo and the crew members’ possessions, attacks in the region have been known to be extremely violent. IMB has reported that five of the 206 hostages kidnapped last year off vessels transiting through Western Africa have been killed. In sharp contrast, pirates in Somalia typically seize a vessel and its crew members and hold them until a hefty ransom is paid.
Mali’s government has signed a peace deal with Tuareg rebels which will effectively help pave the way for elections which are due to take place at the end of next month. Officials in Mali have indicated that the newly signed accord calls for an immediate ceasefire and for government troops to return to the rebel-held northern town of Kidal. In turn, the Tuareg rebels will be restricted to set areas while long-term peace talks will begin after the elections are held. The Malian army had previously threatened to seize the city if no agreement had been reached however Mali’s security forces will now return to Kidal, which has become a de facto Tuareg state, before the 28 July presidential elections. According to the agreement, the deployment will begin with a unit of gendarmes and police, followed by a progressive deployment of Mali’s army, which will be in close collaboration with African and United nations forces.
Tuareg rebels had captured the northern capital city of Kidal after a French-led offensive forced al-Qaeda-linked militant Islamists out of the town back in January of this year. The traditionally nomadic Tuaregs, who consider northern Mali their hereditary homeland, have been seeking to gain autonomy ever since Mali gained its independence from France in 1960, citing that they have been marginalized by the central government in Bamako, Mali’s capital city. Since the 1960’s, Tuareg rebels have picked up arms against the state a number of times. The National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA), which was founded in late 2011, is the most recent movement which has claimed greater autonomy for Mali’s Tuaregs. The MNLA, which signed the accord, had initially formed an alliance with al-Qaeda-linked militants who seized the north in the spring of 2012. However the alliance quickly disintegrated and the Islamist militants swiftly seized control of the MNLA’s strongholds.
As the Malian military began to advance on Kidal last month, many feared that clashes would occur between the MNLA and the army. Consequently, hastily-convened talks were organized in Ouagadougou and were aimed at avoiding a direct confrontation. The accord between the Interim Malian government and the MNLA was reached after nearly two weeks of talks that were brokered by Burkina Faso’s President Blaise Compaore. The talks were held in the capital city of Burkina Faso, which is the regional mediator for the conflict and which has become a de facto home-away-from-home for rebels in conflict with Mali’s government. The accord was signed in front of reporters by two Tuareg representatives and Territorial Administration Minister Moussa Sinko Coulibaly.
In response to the peace deal, Malian government representative Tiebile Drame has indicated that the two sides had overcome their greatest differences, stating that “I think we can say that the biggest task is finished. We have agreed on the essentials…there is an international consensus as well as a Malian consensus on the fundamental questions, which include the integrity of our territory, national unity, and the secular republican nature of our state.” MNLA spokesman Moussa Ag Attaher confirmed that a deal had been reached, stating that “the MNLA and the High Council for the Azawad (the rebel name for northern Mali) have given everything for peace and so we accept this accord.” There has also been a positive international response since the deal was brokered on Tuesday. Leaders at the G8 Summit in Northern Ireland have welcomed the news of the accord while United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has welcomed the signing of the agreement stating that it “…provides for an immediate ceasefire, paves the way for the holding of presidential elections nationwide and commits the parties to discussing sustainable peace in Mali through an inclusive dialogue that will take place after the election.” France’s Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius stated that “this agreement represents a major breakthrough in exiting the crisis in Mali.”
While officials from the United Nations, France and the European Union have all praised the accord, with the EU describing the agreement as a “historic” moment, it must be noted that this is not an overall peace deal which concludes the rebellion that began a year-and-a-half ago. Instead, this is an agreement which is meant to allow a presidential election to go ahead nationwide at the end of July, including in Kidal. However the peace accord does state that a eight-member commission, with equal representation for Tuareg groups and Malian security forces, will be set up. The commission will be composed of four members of each rebel group, along with members of the Malian security forces, as well as six members from the international actors who have been engaged in resolving the conflict in Mali. This will include officials from France, the African Union and the United Nations. According to the agreement, the commission will be tasked with determining how the rebels will be disarmed, how they will be transferred to site where they can be garrisoned and the steps that will be taken in order to allow Mali’s military to return to the occupied area. The body will have ten days to complete this task.
The MNLA’s agreement to allow Malian forces to move into Kidal signifies an immense step towards a possible reunification of the country, which will inevitably further draw out the Islamist militants who continue to pose a threat throughout the entire country. In turn, the Tuareg occupation of Kidal was a major obstacle to holding the presidential elections, which are seen as crucial to Mali’s recovery from the conflict which began fifteen months ago. Although during the worst of the fighting this year, the MNLA sided with France, the group has been reluctant to allow government troops to enter Kidal for the vote. The MNLA had previously warned that the Malian army was not allowed to enter Kidal, citing that the army was discriminating against the Tuareg rebels. However both the Tuareg rebels and the army in Mali have been accused of committing abuses against civilians because of their ethnic origins. With the agreement now in place, Mali’s army will now be able to enter Kidal as the country prepares for elections which are set to take place in about five weeks. However the country’s progress and reunification will also be dependent on the long-term peace discussions which will occur after the elections are held.