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.
A United Nations envoy has confirmed that Guinea’s government and opposition parties have made a breakthrough during talks that were held over the weekend, which could result in an end to the violent political demonstrations and pave the way for legislative elections to take place. More than fifty people have been killed in the past three months in protests which have been organized by activists who accuse President Alpha Conde of preparing to rig the polls which are scheduled to take place on 30 June 2013.
Over the past weekend, President Conde’s government along with Guinea’s opposition parties have been meeting at UN-mediated talks which have focused on the organization of the long-delayed legislative elections. Said Djinnit, a UN envoy who mediated the talks between the government and opposition parties in the coastal capital city of Conakry, indicated that the parties had made significant progress over their demands and that there was reason for hope. Djinnit further indicated that in return for some guarantees, Guinea’s opposition parties have agreed to rejoin the electoral process and have dropped their demands for South African company Waymark, which was charged with updating the voter register, being replaced. The opposition had initially accused the company of filling the electoral roll with the names of President Conde’s ethnic Malinke supporters. However the company has denied these charges. The opposition parties had also called for Guineans living overseas to be given the right to vote. Djinnit has indicated that “regarding the vote of Guineans abroad, the presidential camp, which had reservations on the issue, have lifted their opposition. It has agreed that Guineans living abroad could participate in elections.” He further stated that decisions stemming from the talks could affect the date of the election.
While a spokesman for Guinea’s government could not be immediately reached for comment, a spokesman for the opposition noted that a minimum consensus had been reached and that the parties were waiting for concrete actions from both the government and Guinea’s electoral commission. However Aboubacar Sylla, the opposition spokesman, did state that “we have reasons to be cautiously optimistic.”
A spokesman for UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has indicated that the UN Chief was “encouraged” by the progress that was made during the multi-party political dialogue. In a statement that was released by the UN, his spokesperson stated that ‘the Secretary-General welcomes the constructive spirit in which Guinean parties have pursued the dialogue..” and that he “encourages the parties to build on this positive atmosphere in order to resolve outstanding issues and create the conditions for free, fair and peaceful legislative elections.” The United States’ State Department has also welcomed the agreement that was reached between the political parties.
Guinea has been without a functioning legislature for years while the country’s economy remains to be at a standstill. Following a military coup in December 2008, political instability in Guinea has deterred a number of investors, despite the country’s large deposits of iron ore, bauxite, gold and other minerals. Although Guinea is the world’s largest exporter of bauxite, a metal that is used to produce aluminium, the country remains to be amongst the world’s poorest nations. Investor confidence has been undermined by repeated clashes which have occurred since March of this year.
Last week, Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan tasked a high level team with looking into the possibility of granting a pardon to members of Boko Haram.
Boko Haram, which literally translates to “Western education is forbidden”, is a militant Islamist movement which based in the northeast region of Nigeria. Members strongly oppose man-made laws and westernization, and hold a desire to establish their form of Sharia Law in the country, using violence and terrorist tactics to carry out their aims, resulting in the deaths of over 3,000 people since 2009. Analysts believe that growing ties to other Islamist groups in West Africa, such as AQIM, have further mobilized Nigerian militants more towards Western targets. In February, a French family of seven was kidnapped in northern Cameroon and is still being held by suspected Boko Haram militants. Boko Haram has recently been designated a global terrorist group by the United States.
On 6 April, militants suspected of belonging to Boko Haram shot or hacked eleven people to death in the northeast Nigerian village of Madube, including at a deputy governor’s home. Six more people were wounded in the attack. The deputy governor was not harmed.
President Jonathan asked for the panel to examine amnesty following intense pressure from politicians and Nigeria’s highest Muslim spiritual figure, the Sultan of Sokoto. They believe the army’s response to the insurgency is not bringing peace. In 2009, Nigeria offered an amnesty to militants in the southern part of the country, near the oil-producing Niger Delta. The amnesty was credited with greatly reducing unrest there.
The panel, comprised of national security officials, northern leaders and others, is scheduled to report later this month. However, an audio statement believed to be from the group’s leader Abubakar Shekau, claimed that his group “not committed any wrong to deserve amnesty”.
“Surprisingly,” he said, “the Nigerian government is talking about granting us amnesty. What wrong have we done? On the contrary, it is we that should grant you pardon.” The message continued with a list of what Shekau describes as the state’s atrocities against Muslims.
As if to emphasize their rejection of amnesty, Yobe State Police Commissioner confirmed that four officers were gunned down in the early hours of Thursday (11 April) in a firefight with Boko Haram. The militants intended to burn down the station, but were thwarted. Five gunmen were killed, but some rifles were lost to the attackers.
After a weekend of increased fighting in the mountainous region of northern Mali, al-Qaeda sources have come forth and confirmed the death of one of the leaders of the organization’s North African wing. The death of Abdelhamid Abou Zeid is the most significant success for the French-led operation against Islamist fighters in Mali. Meanwhile the families of those French nationals who are being held in West Africa have voiced their concerns that this recent development will likely leave their relatives at a greater risk. They have called on officials in Paris to bring a halt to the bombings in order to allow for negotiations, aimed at securing their release, to take place.
Abdelhamid Abou Zeid, a senior fighter in al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) was killed last week during a French bombing raid in the Ifoghas mountains. However while an AQIM militant has confirmed the death of Abou Zeid, he has insisted that Mokhtar Belmokhtar, whose death was announced by the Chadian army on Saturday, is alive and fighting. Although AQIM has formally acknowledged the death of Abou Zeid, the head of France’s Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Edouard Guillaud, has indicated that it is “probable” that the commander was killed in fighting however until a body is produced, the death will not be confirmed by officials in France. In regards to the death of Belmokhtar, Admiral Guillaud indicated that reports on jihadist internet forums were stating that he may still be alive. Further sources have indicated that some Islamist militants believe that at the time of the raid, Belmokhtar was operating near Gao, hundreds of kilometers south of where Chadian troops were engaged in operations. The validity of these reports have further questioned his death as Belmokhtar has often been seen in Timbuktu and in Gao. A United States official has also indicated that the Obama Administration is currently searching through US intelligence reports in order to locate specific evidence that confirms the death of Mokhtar Belmokhtar. As of Sunday, information that was available to the U.S. included both intelligence that supported and contradicted the claim of his death.
AQIM’s acknowledgement of the death of Abou Zeid comes at time when France’s top military officials have claimed that the intervention, which was launched in January, was beginning to break the back of AQIM and its allies in Mali. The announcement also coincides with increasing appeals put forth by the relatives of four of the French hostages who are being held in the region. Fears that the hostages may have been used as human shields during the bombing raids, or could now be subjected to reprisal executions, have intensified over the past few days as reports pertaining to Abou Zeid and Belmokhtar have emerged.
Abou Zeid was believed to have been holding four French citizens who were kidnapped in Niger in 2010 however Admiral Guilldau has indicated that these reports cannot be confirmed and that France currently has no information on their whereabouts. Although officials in France have avoided directly responding to the hostage families critique of the current strategy, a spokesman for the Foreign Ministry has indicated that everything possible was being done in order to secure the freedom of the French nationals.
Although neither Abou Zeid nor Belmokhtar sat at the top of AQIM’s hierarchy, they effectively became two of the most powerful al-Qaeda figures in the sub-Sahara. Both are known to have commanded powerful brigades of fighters who were intensely loyal to them. Several years ago, Abou Zeid was promoted to the position of deputy leadership in the Sahara by AQIM’s Emir Abdelmalek Droukdel out of a concern that Belmokhtar was growing too strong. With Algerian security forces degrading the group within its borders, over the next few years, the Sahel countries – Mali, Mauritania and Niger – would become AQIM’s new center of gravity. However while AQIM was finding itself on new grounds, Droukdel began to struggle to exert control over his southern commanders. He would go on to appoint Jemal Oukacha – also known as Yahay Abou el-Hammam – in an effort to restore his influence. Jemal Oukacha was appointed the overall commander of AQIM in the Sahara last autumn. His appointment resulted in the announcement that Belmokhtar had been relieved of his command. Although Jemal Oukacha has been a jihadist for the past decade, he comes from northern Algeria and over the years, he has struggled to gain the degree of influence that both Abou Zeid and Belmokhtar had attained within AQIM. Both men also counted criminals, corrupt politicians and military officers as their contacts which only enabled them to further their influence and power. Belmokhtar’s response to his demotion of power and status resulted in the formation of a new commando unit which would be responsible for the January 2013 attack on a plant in Algeria. If the deaths of Belmokhtar and Abou Zeid are confirmed, this may allow Droukdel and his deputy, Jemal Oukacha to gain greater control of al-Qaeda’s operations in the Sahara.