The Tuareg rebellion that began last month in northern Mali has continued. Rebels belonging to the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA) attacked two towns over the weekend, and the Malian army “has launched an air-and-land offensive” to win back territory and defeat the MNLA. The fighting in northern Mali has sparked protests in the south, as military families shaken by news of losses marched in the capital Bamako and elsewhere. The emergence of these interlocking crises has fueled speculation that Mali’s presidential elections, scheduled for April 29 and seen as symbolizing the consolidation of Mali’s democratic credentials, could be delayed.
On Sunday, President Amadou Toumani Toure gave assurances that the elections will go forward as planned.
“We are already used to holding elections during war, and during Tuareg rebellions,” Toure said on national radio, referring to past polls during Tuareg uprisings in the 1990s. “Whatever the difficulty, you must have a president, elected legally and legitimately.”
Toure, or “ATT,” whom term limits prevent from running again, has not endorsed a candidate yet (see my quick post on some of the major candidates here, and read Think Africa Press’ thoughtful take on the election here).
ATT’s statement comes as no surprise. Malian politicians have several incentives not to delay the elections, even if the rebellion continues through April.
One incentive is that postponing elections could risk funding and support from external donors. Mali’s government badly wants to preserve external aid flows in order to deal with food insecurity and development – not to mention the rebellion itself. Sacrificing its image as a successful West African democracy could come at a high cost.
Another incentive is that a delay – and the corresponding administrative and legal confusion associated with whatever interim government took power – could exacerbate the political instability in Mali. Dioncounda Traore (French), President of the National Assembly and a major presidential candidate, has warned that if a delay occurs, “anything could happen, even a coup d’etat.”
A third incentive is, if portraits of ATT are to be believed, the president’s desire to leave a strong legacy. Such a legacy could be marred if rebellion is still raging when he steps down, but extending his mandate in an extra-constitutional fashion could do even more damage. ATT may feel that passing the baton to another politician this year would be better than risking the instability that might result from a delayed election.
None of these factors guarantee that the elections will be held on time. But with only two months to go, it certainly seems that the president and the political class in the south are firmly in favor of holding the vote as planned.