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Mali, Mauritania to Hold Legislative Elections

  • Anne Look

A statue of a hippopotamus is covered with election posters at a traffic circle in Bamako, Mali, Nov. 19, 2013.

A statue of a hippopotamus is covered with election posters at a traffic circle in Bamako, Mali, Nov. 19, 2013.

Mali and Mauritania go to the polls this weekend for legislative elections. Both countries are trying to put the finishing touches on post-coup democratic transitions. However, security concerns in Mali and an opposition boycott in Mauritania have raised concerns of more instability ahead.

Mauritania holds parliamentary and municipal elections on Saturday. Malians vote for their new National Assembly deputies on Sunday.

Campaigning in both countries has been subdued.

These are Mauritania's first legislative and local elections since a 2008 military coup. Coup leader Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz was elected president in 2009.

Tensions have since climbed between the ruling party and the lead opposition coalition, and these elections were postponed several times.

All but one of the 11 parties in the Coordination for Democratic Opposition are boycotting Saturday's vote, which they have called a "masquerade." Opposition protestors clashed with security forces in the capital, Nouakchott, on Monday.

The only main opposition party contesting this race is the recently legalized Islamist party, Tewassoul, which is associated with Mauritania's Muslim Brotherhood.

Analysts said the boycott could backfire on the opposition ahead of next year's presidential race.

Mauritanian political analyst Cheikh Mohamed Horma said, "these elections are supposed to be about finding a solution to a political crisis that has lasted several years but that has failed. Instead," he said, "the elections could just make things worse."

Campaigning is also wrapping up across the border in Mali.

It's been almost two years since that country plunged into crisis. A Tuareg rebellion kicked off in the north, followed by a chaotic military coup in the south. Al-Qaida-linked Islamist groups took over the north for nine months until French and African troops intervened alongside the Malian army.

The presidential elections this July and August went off without major incident. Voter turnout reached a record high. Longtime opposition figure Ibrahim Boubacar Keita became Mali's new president and promised a "new era" for the country.

However, Malians said it's going to take more to restore their faith in politicians. Many are predicting a low turnout for Sunday's vote.

A man in Bamako said they hoped there would be a lot of change at the National Assembly, that it would no longer just be a place where people show up to check in and check out and that instead the new representatives would work hard.

Security remains a top concern for voting in the north where French, Malian and U.N. troops continue to hunt remaining Islamist fighters who have struck back with deadly suicide attacks.

Rockets were fired on the northern town of Gao on Thursday, just three days before the vote.

The situation in the far northern town of Kidal remains especially tense. Kidal is the stronghold of Tuareg separatist group, the MNLA.

There have been sporadic clashes between MNLA fighters and Malian soldiers since a June ceasefire deal. Two French journalists reporting in Kidal were kidnapped and killed this month. Al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb claimed responsibility.

(Mohammed Beddy contributed to this story from Nouakchott, Mauritania.)
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