Mali, like France and many other Francophone African countries, uses a two-round system in its presidential elections. If no candidate obtains more than 50% in the first round, the top two vote-getters face off in a second round.
Mali, which held an election on 29 July, now finds itself in this situation. The first-round results, released on 2 August, show incumbent President Ibrahim Boubacar Keïta (IBK) obtaining 41.4%, meaning he has fallen short of a first-round victory. He will now face runner-up Soumaïla Cissé, who obtained 17.8%, in a second round on 12 August.
Here are more results. The possibility of rigging, of course, should not be ruled out, either with these results or with the second round.
And here is a bit of background on the candidates.
I think this could go either way, although I lean toward thinking that IBK will win – a prediction Bruce Whitehouse made some time ago.
On the one hand, second rounds are very dangerous for West African incumbents, because it gives the normally fragmented opposition a chance to rally around a single candidate. That’s how Abdoulaye Wade came to power in Senegal in 2000, and it’s how Macky Sall won there twelve years later.
On the other hand, Cissé will now have to build a complicated and diverse coalition in order to win. If we assume (perhaps wrongly!) that endorsements from other candidates would more or less translate into the migration of their supporters into Cissé’s column, he would need the support of not just the third- and fourth-place finishers, but of a host of minor candidates as well.
For perspective, let’s compare Cissé’s situation to those of Wade in 2000 and Sall in 2012. In 2000, Wade scored 31% in the first round while the incumbent scored 41%. In the second round, the incumbent’s score held steady while Wade’s shot up to nearly 58.5%. A good part of that gain came from the third-place finisher,* whose nearly 17% score in the first round seems to have largely migrated to Wade’s column. In other words, Wade and the third-place finisher had nearly 50% of the vote between them, whereas Cissé and Diallo don’t even crack 30% in the case of Mali in 2018. Similarly, in Senegal in 2012, Sall scored around 26% in the first round to the incumbent’s 34%. The third place finisher* got 13%, and his endorsement put Sall at roughly 40% without even factoring in the lower-placing candidates and their supporters; Sall eventually got nearly 66% in the second round while the incumbent’s tally was virtually unchanged.
Again, Cissé is starting with much lower vote totals, both for himself and for the other politicians who could help him build a winning second-round coalition. The good news for Cissé from the Senegalese comparison is that in both cases, the Senegalese incumbents couldn’t improve – at all – on their first-round scores. But in Mali in 2018, the incumbent just has to convince a few of the minor candidates to get on board with him – if everyone’s putting their fingers to the wind, the idea of sticking with the incumbent may seem more attractive and practical than joining an unwieldy coalition with a candidate who couldn’t clear 20% on his own. Or, to speak more darkly, the incumbent just has to rig in a way that gives himself a plausible second-round total.
Is it possible that voters will think differently now that it’s just two candidates, and not be bound by their first-round choices? Of course. But it’s worth underscoring that IBK and Cissé faced off before, in 2013, and IBK won decisively (77.6% to Cissé’s 22.4% in the second round). In fact, Cissé actually performed worse in 2018 in the first round than he did in 2013 in the first round – 17.8% in 2018 versus 19.4% in 2013. Much has changed – or, rather, not changed – in Mali since 2013, and many voters who saw IBK as a promising candidate in 2013 may be disillusioned with him after five years of insecurity and a few serious scandals. But can Cissé expect a thirty-point swing on that basis? All IBK has to do is pick up less than 9% of those who didn’t vote for him in the first round, and a combination of endorsements, incentives, and any remaining distaste for Cissé among the undecideds could be enough to pull IBK across the finish line. More than 40% of the electorate, after all, is in some sense now up for grabs. It’s worth underscoring, too, that neither IBK nor Cissé is any kind of fresh face – both men are veteran politicians who have held major offices on and off since the 1990s and who are now both well over 65. So voters may not see Cissé as a change agent.
There are many, many other issues to write about in connection with the first round – violence, concerns over process and fairness, statements by various candidates, etc. – but I’ll stop here for now, and hopefully pick up some of those other threads next week.
*Moustapha Niasse in both cases