Mali, which is in the midst of an internal conflict, is set to have a presidential election on July 28. However, numerous obstacles should lead officials to consider moving the election to the fall.
Many of the problems are logistical. The distribution of voter identification cards to eligible voters only just began. The country’s poor roads and infrastructure will make the distribution of the ID cards within a month’s time an impossible task. Further, late July is Mali’s rainy season, which could inhibit travel to voting booths. The conflict has forced hundreds of thousands of eligible Malian voters into neighboring countries. Whether they will be able to participate in the elections is uncertain.
Equally problematic, July 28 is during Ramadan, which could prevent many Muslims from participating in the electoral process. The Tuaregs, the group that started the separatist movement in January 2012, are almost exclusively Muslim. No lists of candidates have been drawn up for the 13 provinces of Kidal, where the separatist conflict originally began.
In such a critical election, it is vital to have high voter turnout to ensure legitimacy. A turnout of less than the 36 percent that turned out in 2007 (under much more favorable circumstances) would increase the difficulty the new president will face in integrating disgruntled populations back into society or arbitrating differences between ethnic rivals.
Furthermore, even though a peace agreement was signed last month, ethnic tensions are still simmering. Violence, compounded with a low election turnout, could lead to ongoing instability and conflict.
Why, then, is there such pressure to vote in late July despite so many potential problems? Key international donors, including the U.S., are demanding that Mali hold elections before providing critically needed international aid. The French are eager to wash their hands of the situation as well and have pressed for elections to take place in July.
What international donor governments don’t realize is that, if the elections fail, the crisis will continue or worsen. As the interim president, Dioncounda Traoré, states, “We would be back to square one.” To avoid being back at square one, the first step should be for Mali to postpone elections.
Andrew Scarpitta is currently a member of the Young Leaders Program at The Heritage Foundation. For more information on interning at Heritage, please click here.