Ibrahim Boubacar Keita won re-election in Mali’s presidential election [File: Luc Gnago/Reuters]
On August 16, incumbent Ibrahim Boubacar Keita, was declared the winner of Mali’s presidential election, securing a second five-year term in office.
Keita – who is widely known as IB – got 67.2 percent of the August 12 runoff vote, decisively defeating challenger Soumaila Cisse, who received 32.8 percent, according to electoral officials.
Though IBK’s victory was widely expected, the vote was marred in both rounds by allegations of fraud from the opposition, as well as violence, threats and other difficulties that closed hundreds of polling stations and disturbed the voting process in thousands of others.
The second-round turnout was low, at 33.6 percent, even though this is not especially unusual for Mali.
Here’s what you need to know about the election.
IBK’s win was anticipated, but his mandate is unclear
IBK faced 23 challengers, including not Cisse – who he is also defeated in a 2013 runoff vote – but also Cheick Modibo Diarra, a former interim prime minister, and Aliou Diallo, one of the country’s wealthiest businessmen.
Although IBK’s partisans spoke confidently of an outright win before the July 29 first round, his re-election was comfortable and largely in-line with past victories.
The easy win also came despite IBK facing larger opposition in civil society and among religious leaders than in 2013.
In that year, he was widely regarded as the right man to help the country recover after the 2012 Tuareg rebellion and takeover of the north, which was followed by a French military intervention.
Popular acclaim has been muted at best for IBK, who benefitted from a fractured opposition but is seen by many as being in a weaker position than 2013, given the security and financial challenges Mali has faced during his first mandate.
Lingering fraud allegations marred both rounds
Before voting even began, Cisse and his campaign warned of irregularities with voter lists and difficulties with obtaining the cards required to cast ballots.
During and after the first round, they alleged ballot-box stuffing and other irregularities, especially in the country’s arid north, where the population is low and voter turnout was especially high.
Cisse also contested the results of the second round, despite European Union (EU) observers saying they had not witnessed fraud, and called on political parties to keep any electoral protests peaceful, and within the bounds of the law.
On Friday, Cisse said he lodged an appeal with Mali’s constitutional court to overturn the results.
Mali’s political class and society are more fractured than in 2013
Despite efforts to unify the opposition, both Diarra and Diallo refused to tell their followers who to vote for in the second round – all but guaranteeing IBK’s win before ballots were cast.
This happened despite noted opposition to IBK from some of Mali’s most prominent religious leaders such as Cheikh M’Bouye Haidara (the cherif of Nioro-du-Sahel, a town near the border with Mauritania), as well as influential commentators like Mohamed Youssouf Bathily, known as Ras Bath, whose radio show and public speeches denouncing corruption and poor governance are hugely popular among young Malians.
Despite the numbers, this opposition and lukewarm support in the international community makes IBK’s win far less definitive than in 2013, given his visible declines in popularity and support among key groups.
Mali’s security situation and of region is worsening
Five years after France’s military intervention and despite the presence of more than 13,000 United Nations peacekeepers, insecurity in Mali continues to worsen, having spread from the north to Mali’s more central and more populated regions of Mopti and Segou.
According to a recent UN report, violent incidents have tripled in the past year, and only a third of state officials who should be present in the north and the central Mopti region are actually in their posts.
Armed violence has also grown in northern and now eastern Burkina Faso. Niger’s border areas with Mali also continue to be under threat from armed groups. Both armed groups and militias have allegedly committed massacres against civilians in Niger as well as the Malian border region of Menaka.
The UN and others hope that now that elections are finished, Mali’s government and signatory armed groups will be able to work more diligently to implement the Accord for Peace and Reconciliation, signed in Algiers, Algeria, in June 2015.
But progress on the implementation has been slow, with only limited results so far.
Unclear how election will impact international presence in Mali and wider Sahel
The international community is largely resigned to IBK’s victory, and hopes for progress despite growing insecurity and allegations that corruption and poor governance have worsened in the past five years.
The UN peacekeeping mission in Mali costs $1bn per year and is unlikely to go away any time soon.
The EU has two Common Defence and Security Policy (CSDP) missions in Mali and provides massive amounts of aid, financing and budget support to the country and the wider region through bilateral programmes and new initiatives such as the Alliance Pour le Sahel (Alliance for the Sahel).
The EU, and to a lesser extent the United States, also support regional efforts like the G5 Sahel Joint Force, which is meant to improve coordination and border security between Mauritania, Mali, Burkina Faso, Niger and Chad. However, the Joint Force is only slowly coming together.
Even if and when the force becomes fully operational, its 5,000 soldiers and police officers will have a difficult time patrolling vast and difficult border areas, despite promised donations of more than €430m ($492m) for the force gathered so far.