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Mali: Who’s who in the race to the 2022 presidential poll?

By Aïssatou Diallo
Posted on Wednesday, 28 April 2021 12:41

Among the potential presidential candidates are three former prime ministers (from l. to r.): Modibo Sidibé, Moussa Mara and Soumeylou Boubèye Maïga © MONTAGE : JA : ISSOUF SANOGO/AFP; ISSOUF SANOGO/AFP; Nicolas Remene / Le Pictorium/MAXPPP

Several of Mali’s political heavyweights, including former prime ministers Soumeylou Boubèye Maïga, Moussa Mara and Modibo Sidibé as well as businessman Aliou Boubacar Diallo, are already looking ahead to the 27 February and 13 March 2022 presidential elections.

Since the beginning of the transition government, politicians have been focussing on the presidential and legislative elections, which are scheduled for March 2022. Despite an increase in movements which bring together several parties and civil society organisations, it is expected that there will be nearly 30 presidential candidates.

“For the first time in our history, the three major political parties are being destroyed at the same time,” says Housseini Amion Guindo, president of the Convergence pour le Développement du Mali (Codem).

Rassemblement pour le Mali (RPM) was weakened by the fall of Ibrahim Boubacar Keïta (IBK) on 18 August 2020; Union pour la République et la Démocratie (URD) has been without a leader since Soumaïla Cissé’s death on 25 December and the historic Alliance pour la Démocratie au Mali-Parti Africain pour la Solidarité et la Justice (Adema-PASJ) has a leader incapable of uniting its members.

The first two parties have already stated that they will present candidates of their own.

Reshuffled cards

IBK seemed quite isolated throughout the crisis which erupted after the April-May 2020 legislative elections and the demonstrations of the Mouvement du 5 Juin (M5), which led to his downfall.

“Some of his supporters reproach us for not having supported him,” says a party leader, but relations between IBK and his political family were not easy, as the RPM felt it hadn’t obtained the place it deserved within government.

However, the party is counting on its local representation for the legislative and municipal elections. Since November 2020, RPM leaders have undertaken a tour of the regions to reconnect with the party’s grassroots activists, but it has not yet found a charismatic and unifying candidate for the presidential election.

“The RPM, URD and Adema will influence the election, but not in a major way. As none of these three parties’ candidates will be able to bring them together and win the election, they risk being seriously weakened, or even disappearing after the elections,” says former prime minister Moussa Mara.

While waiting for Yelema’s leadership convention, which is scheduled for September, Mara stepped down as leader of his party — of which he is now a core member — and is participating in social events across the country.

“The party is experiencing a period of unprecedented growth,” Mara says. “Young people see it as a party that listens to their needs, because there are leadership positions for them.” Will this be an asset for Yelema in the next elections?

Many potential candidates

Other candidates have been in the field for several months. Aliou Boubacar Diallo, a businessman and honorary president of the Alliance Démocratique pour la Paix (ADP-Maliba), who came in third in the 2018 presidential election, has already begun a tour across the country to meet his supporters.

At the end of March, the Forces Alternatives pour le Renouveau et l’Emergence (FARE An Ka Wuli), led by former prime minister Modibo Sidibé, made its political comeback in Yanfolila.

Even though Soumeylou Boubèye Maïga, another head of government, has not declared his intention to run for president, he is thought to have presidential ambitions. His party, the Alliance pour la Solidarité au Mali-Convergence des Forces Patriotiques (Asma-CFP), won five seats in the 2020 legislative election before the Assembly was dissolved.

In the aftermath of the coup d’état, he was also presented as one of the most influential advisers of the former Comité National pour le Salut du Peuple (CNSP). Boubou Cissé — who succeeded Maïga as prime minister and has been accused of leading an operation to destabilise the transition government — is also seen by many as a potential presidential candidate. Others include leaders of civil society and businessmen such as Seydou Coulibaly, the head of Cira.

“This election will not be won alone. It will be the victory of a collective,” said Housseini Amion Guindo, head of Espérance Nouvelle-Jigiya Kura. The movement, which brings together some 20 parties and civil society organisations, made its political comeback on 3 October.

According to a West African diplomat based in Bamako, the M5 may also present its own candidate. However, the movement is divided and has been weakened since the transition government took over. Tiébilé Dramé, former foreign affairs minister and president of Parena, is also forming a movement which brings together several parties and associations.

Tiéman Hubert Coulibaly, president of the Union pour la Démocratie et le Développement (UDD), is also considering running for president.

Finally, if the transition charter prevents the main actors of the transition — those in positions of power — from running in the next elections, the military could be instrumental in determining the outcome.

Stormy debates regarding the organisation of elections

With 10 months to go before the presidential election, the field remains very open, but in the meantime, the organisation of the various elections is causing heated debate. After several reminders from Ecowas, the UN and the political class, the government finally published an electoral calendar on 15 April.

This timetable states that a constitutional referendum will be held on 31 October 2021. This will be followed by local elections (communal, circle, regional and district councilors) on 26 December. The timetable provides for the organisation of the first round of the presidential election and the legislative election on 27 February 2022, with possible second rounds scheduled for 13 and 20 March respectively.

Prime minister Moctar Ouane has also set up a strategic orientation committee which brings together parties and civil society organisations. Several institutional and electoral reforms will be discussed, including increasing the number of members of parliament and creating a single election management body. Consequently, some debate that there is need to restore confidence in the electoral process while others feel that it will not be ready on time.

“How do you create an administration with a general directorate and specialised directorates, which will be scattered throughout the country, within less than a year? I don’t think it’s possible,” says Mara. “The system is not bad, the problem is that we have too many bad losers. It is the administration that physically organises the elections with the candidates, who have representatives in the polling stations. There are enough safeguards in place to ensure that the elections are not stolen.”

According to Ibrahima Sangho, president of the Observatoire pour les Élections et la Bonne Gouvernance au Mali, the appointment of military governors — as well as a change in the law that allows military personnel to be appointed to civilian administrator positions i.e. prefects and sub-prefects — has contributed to reinforcing feelings of mistrust towards the administration’s method of organising elections.

To restore confidence, it will also be necessary to “audit the electoral register and start having polling stations publish their results online,” he says.

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