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.
The United Nations has commenced its military mission in Mali, effectively bolstering the mission in a country that remains to be threatened by militants and which is just weeks away from what many believe could be chaotic elections. The UN mission, known as MINUSMA, is bringing 6,000 West African troops, who are already in the country, under its command. The operation will eventually double in size as by December of this year, the UN force will reach its full strength, with 12,600 uniformed personnel under its command. It will be the world body’s third largest mission. During the launch ceremony, which was held in Bamako, mission chief Bert Koenders stated that “MINUSMA’s military force will be reinforced gradually in the coming months,” further noting that “contingents will deploy in the main population centers in northern Mali… But MINUSMA cannot do everything. We are here to support the efforts of the government and its partners.” The UN force will operate alongside troops from its former colonial power France, some of whom will remain in the country in order to tackle the remaining Islamist militants who continue to pose a threat to the security of the entire country. There are currently around 6,000 troops, mainly from West African countries, however the UN is still seeking soldiers, helicopters and intelligence support from contributing countries before the mission is fully up and running by the end of this year.
Although the UN force is expected to eventually take over security duties from the French forces, which led an operation to oust Islamist militants from the northern region of the country back in January, its first mission will be to secure the north so that Mali can hold nationwide presidential elections on 28 July. Despite weeks of uncertainty pertaining to the elections, the interim Malian government confirmed on Tuesday that the elections will go ahead as planned. The decision to hold the first round of elections on 28 July, which will possibly be followed by a second round on 11 August, was taken by the Malian government which was increasingly under pressure from the international community, and especially from former colonial power France, to set an election date. However Mali’s election commission, which is organising the vote alongside the government, has stipulated that the distribution of polling cards was seriously behind schedule and that it would be “extremely difficult” to get nearly eight million cards out in a country where 500,000 people have been displaced by the conflict which has lasted more than a year. Furthermore, the election commission also highlighted the ongoing instability that is taking place in the northeastern town of Kidal, which continues to be occupied by Tuareg separatists and which still has seen no army presence despite a ceasefire being signed between the transitional government and the rebels on 18 June in Burkina Faso. In response to the confirmation of elections, UN Secretary-General Ban-Ki-moon stated that holding a poll on July 28 that was credible, peaceful and accepted by Malians would be “an enormous undertaking.”
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.
French President Francois Hollande announced today that top Islamic extremist leaders, who have been seeking shelter in the northern mountainous region of Mali, have been killed. Meanwhile France suffers a fourth death in Mali. The security situation throughout Mali remains to be volatile. With the recent unconfirmed deaths of Abdelhamid Abou Zeid and Mokhtar Belmokhtar, anyone remaining in the country is highly advised to relocate to the capital city of Bamako as retaliatory attacks throughout the northern region are expected to occur. Companies whose employees remain within Mali should take additional security precautions around company buildings as well as travel routes taken by employees. MS Risk advises those who are travelling in the country to use alternate routes and to not travel at night. Although a number of militants are known to be hiding in the Ifoghas mountains, it is highly likely that a number of rebels are present throughout the northern region and may seek to kidnap westerners as a form of retaliation.
During his visit to Warsaw, Poland for a six-nation European Union defence summit, President Hollande indicated that “the terrorist kingpins have been destroyed” in the Ifoghas mountains. However he declined to comment if key commander Mokhtar Belmokhtar is amongst those key AQIM leaders that have been killed in recent days. Hollande meanwhile has indicated that France will begin to pull its troops out of Mali sometime in April. According to the President, the final phase of the French military intervention “will last through March and from April there will be a decrease in the number of French soldiers in Mali as African forces will take over, supported by the Europeans.” Although initially France’s Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius had indicated in early February that French troop numbers in Mali, who now number around 4,000, would decrease as of March, if all goes according to plan, the recent sharp increase of suicide attacks in the former Islamist strongholds, coupled with a general unreadiness of full deployment of African forces, has effectively forced officials in France to maintain their army numbers within the country as the security situation remains too fluid to withdrawal.
Meanwhile France suffered another casualty on Wednesday when a French soldier was killed during fighting against Islamist militants in eastern Mali, about 100 kilometers (60 miles) from the northern city of Gao. Sergeant Wilfried Pingaud (37) is the fourth French soldier to have died in action. He was a member of the 68th African Artillery Regiment based in Valbonne in southern France. The French soldier died when a group of Islamist fighters attacked French and Malian troops as they were carrying out operations to secure the area. During the attack, a dozen militants were killed while four Malian soldiers were wounded. So far, France has suffered relatively minimal casualties during its operation in Mali which was launched in mid-January. On Saturday, a paratrooper was killed during an operation that was aimed at removing Islamist militants from the Ifoghas mountains. A legionnaire with the 2nd Foreign Parachute Regiment was killed amidst heavy fighting on February 19 while a helicopter pilot died on the first day of the French military intervention. Although the intervention initially resulted in a quick ousting of the rebels who had previously controlled the northern region of the country, fighting has intensified over the past week as efforts have focused on hunting down the militants who are believed to be in the mountainous region of the country.
This past week has seen a number of suicide incidents and increased fighting occurring throughout Mali, with one French Legionnaire being killed in the fighting. The continued string of suicide bombings in the previously occupied northern regions of the country are further indications that al-Qaeda-linked groups have resorted to hit and run attacks as a means of destabilizing the security in Mali. Anyone remaining in Mali is advised to either leave the country immediately or relocate to Bamako as it is highly likely that suicide attacks and clashes will take place throughout the northern regions of the country. Such attacks and bombings are likely to take place in the previous rebel-strongholds and will likely target military camps and foreigners. Clashes between militants and soldiers are also likely too occur throughout northern Mali as rebels attempt to disrupt the security. In turn, their is a heightened risk that similar attacks may occur in neighbouring countries, especially those West African nations which have sent their troops to Mali.
On Friday, five people, including two suicide bombers, died in car bombings that occurred in northern Mali just one day after fierce urban battles amongst French-led forces and Islamists resulted in the deaths of at least twenty al-Qaeda-linked militants. Security sources have confirmed that today’s incident involved two vehicles that were targeting civilians and members of the ethnic Tuareg rebel group, the MNLA. The incident occurred in the town of Tessalit, which is known as the gateway into the mountainous regions of the country. It is believed that a number of rebels have fled to this region in order to seek shelter and to regroup. Although no group has claimed responsibility, it is widely believed that the al-Qaeda-linked Movement for Oneness and Jihad in West Africa (MUJAO), which is one of Mali’s main Islamist groups, is behind today’s attack. Furthermore, it is highly likely that any rebels in the mountainous regions, and nearby, will focus on hit and run attacks in the coming weeks as a means of preventing allied troops from gaining control of the region.
Today’s attack also comes after al-Qaeda-linked rebels claimed responsibility for another car bomb attack that occurred on Thursday near the city of Kidal. The car blast occurred just 500 metres from the camp which is occupied by French and Chadian troops. Although the vehicle was targeting the camp, it had exploded before it could reach the base. At least two civilians were wounded in the incident. MUJAO have claimed responsibility for this attack, stating that they had no difficulty getting into Kidal in order to blow up the vehicle as they had planned. A spokesman for MUJAO, Abu Walid Sharoui also noted that “more explosions will happen across our territory.”
With an increase of attacks occurring this week, France announced its second military death since President Francois Hollande launched the unilateral military operation on 11 January 2013. Military officials in Paris confirmed that Staff Sergeant Harold Vormeeele, an NCO and commando with the 2nd Foreign Parachute Regiment, an elite unit of the French Foreign Legion, was killed during an operation launched on Monday which resulted in the deaths of more than twenty rebels in the mountainous Ifoghas region. According to military sources, 150 French and malian soldiers were taking part in the operation which was aimed at rooting the rebels out of their hideaways.
Over the past few weeks, the French-led forces have been increasingly facing guerrilla-style tactics after initially having been met with little resistance in their drive to force Islamist groups out of the main northern towns of Gao, Kidal and Timbuktu. Although the large-scale military operations in the northern region of the country are beginning to wind down, sporadic fighting continues to erupt and may prove to be an issue once the French hand over their mission to the African Union forces.