Cape Town -
Although elections are essential to restoring democratic rule in Mali, analysts doubt that the troubled West African nation will be ready for national polls by the end of July.
“Holding elections on July 28 is a bad idea. They are likely to be a total failure and could result in chaos and violence,” Abdoulaye Niang, an independent analyst based in the capital Bamako, said.
Even if the interim government and separatist ethnic Tuareg rebels agree on a temporary peace accord - which they have been negotiating for the past week - security will remain a concern in the north of the country.
“Elections are a prime opportunity for extremists to launch attacks to force their interests,” Niang said.
This week, the French army said it had uncovered a workshop for producing explosives in northern Mali, the largest cache found for several months.
A temporary peace agreement is a far cry from the sustainable, long-term solution Mali needs to mend a nation deeply divided along ethnic lines, Niang said.
Mali's key regional capital Kidal, held by the Tuareg National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA), as well as government-controlled regions around Gao and Timbuktu, have been suffering ongoing assaults and suicide bombings since February.
The MNLA, which seeks independence from southern Mali, has repeatedly threatened that it will not allow elections in its territories without power-sharing talks.
The elections also come at a time when France, which led a military offensive against Islamic militants in Mali's north after a coup that toppled elected president Amadou Toumani Toure in January 2012, is starting to withdraw its troops.
A 12 600-strong United Nations mission that will start to take over from July 1 will have very little time to establish itself.
“It's an unstable and highly contested context for elections,” Oladiran Bello, a senior analyst at the South African Institute of International Affairs in Cape Town, said.
There are also numerous logistical hurdles. With only six weeks to go, Mali's electoral register remains incomplete. The country is more than twice the size of France, and has about 7 million eligible voters, but voter cards have not yet been distributed.
“The interim government agreed to the July 28 date for diplomatic reasons. We don't see any real preparations taking place within the country,” Niang said.
Interim president Dioncounda Traore was pressured to agree to early elections by former colonial power France, the United States and the United Nations. International donors pledged 4.3 billion dollars in May to help reconstruct and develop Mali, and tied the release of the money to the July 28 election date.
Handing over power to a democratically elected government is part of France's exit strategy from Mali, while the UN and donor countries want new leadership in place before ploughing millions into the country, Bello said.
Traore had made his personal doubts known a day before the May donor conference: “If the elections fail, it will create even more problems than Mali has known during its crisis. We would be back to square one.”
There are many more reasons for not holding elections in July. It is the height of Mali's rainy season, which makes poor roads and infrastructure even worse.
“At the end of July, it will be impossible for large parts of the population to vote when heavy rains and flooding make many roads impassable,” Niang said.
Mali already suffers from low voter turnout. In the past 15 years, only between 21 and 39 per cent of the population have participated in polls, according to the International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance in Stockholm.
The July election date could mean that even fewer people will take part in this year's ballot.
July is the main planting season for farmers and overlaps with the Islamic holy month of Ramadan, meaning two major population groups will be deterred from voting.
In addition, almost half a million Malians have been displaced inside and outside the country since the coup. For them, too, casting their vote will be difficult.
“July elections will have serious logistical, political and organisational constraints that could create serious problems in terms of legitimacy and contestation,” Bello said.
Ideally, Mali should be given at least several more months to thoroughly prepare for elections, he said. But the international community is not prepared to grant this much time. - Sapa-dpa