The Electoral System
Mali’s electoral system is based on the provisions of the February 25, 1992 Constitution and the electoral law of 2011-085 of September 30, 2011, modified by the 2013-017 Law of May 21, 2013.
Mali’s population is 14,000,000 inhabitants according to the fourth general census of people of Mali (RPGH 2009). On the basis of the February 25, 1992 Constitution, the President of the Republic is the Head of State and has many responsibilities. These include the power to appoint a Prime Minister, to call a referendum on any issue deemed of national interest, and to dissolve the National Assembly. The Constitution also provides for the separation power between the executive, legislative and judicial branches of government. The powers of the legislative branch are exercised by the National Assembly and those of the Judiciary by the Supreme Court as well as lower courts and tribunals.
The Parliament is made up of one chamber called the National Assembly which controls the Government and has the power to pass resolutions rejecting a specific program or the Government’s statement of its general policy programs before the Parliament (this statement functions as roadmap for the Government, it is presented by every new Prime Minister, and may lead to a vote of no confidence).
Since the March 22, 2012 military coup staged two months before scheduled presidential elections, Mali has experienced a period of political transition. The coup took place following a rebellion in the north of the country which was led by an ethnic minority group and other Islamist groupings (AQIM, MUJAO, and Ansar Dine). The rebellion resulted in the partition of Mali between its northern and southern regions. An interim president was selected on April 12, 2012 on the basis of the provisions within Article 36 of the Constitution, and the involvement of the countries belonging to the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS). ECOWAS countries signed a general agreement with the coup leaders to outline the content and plan of the transition and thus allowed a relative return to constitutional normality. Given the impossibility of organizing new elections within thirty days as prescribed by the Constitution, the period of transition was extended and the transition was scheduled to end after the election of a new president. Following the National Assembly’s adoption of the January 29, 2013 ‘Roadmap’ presidential elections were scheduled for July 2013. The first round of the elections was held July 28, 2013 and resulted in a second round held August 11, 2013. Ibrahim Boubacar Keïta was elected President of the Republic and took office September 4, 2013.
Regarding the administration of its territory, Mali initiated a decentralization process in 1993. The February 1, 1993 Law defines local governments to include, regions, the District of Bamako, the cercles, and urban and rural municipalities. The October 16, 1996 Law creates 684 rural municipalities in addition to the 19 urban municipalities that were already in existence. These newly created local entities are self-governed by elected counselors.
Since 1996, Mali consists of 8 administrative regions and the District of Bamako which benefits from a special status. Within the regions there are 49 ‘cercles’ The cercles includes ‘sous-prefectures’ in which are located 697 municipalities to which should be added the 6 municipalities of the District of Bamako. Mali’s entire territory is divided into 703 municipalities. There is currently a project to implement a new administrative reorganization of the territory. A proposed law concerning administrative entities was approved during the December 7, 2011 cabinet meeting. The new law increases the number of regions from 8 to 18 and stipulates a progressive implementation of the reform, through a period of five years to account for financial and logistical constraints as well as the relative scarcity of human resources.
Legal framework and voting process
Since Mali selected and formalized its multiparty system in the 1992 Constitution, it has passed several electoral laws. The most recent of which was the 201-017 Law of May 21, 2013. The Malian people exercise their sovereignty through referendum and through the election of representatives. In Mali, the President of the Republic, members of the National Assembly and municipal counselors are elected by universal direct suffrage, while national counselors, regional counselors and counselors of the cercles are elected by indirect ballot. The electoral process varies with the nature of the election. For example, the elections of the cercle counselors (representatives of municipal councils at cercle councils), and regional counselors (representatives of the cercle council to the regional council) are conducted by secret indirect ballot, at the respective inaugural sessions of the municipal council and the cercle council.
The presidential election: The President of the Republic is elected for a five-year term with the possibility of second and final term by universal direct suffrage in a single plurality with runoff elections if no candidate receives an absolute majority of the vote. It is required to receive an absolute majority of votes cast to be elected president. The election takes place in the entire country and abroad for the Malians who do not reside in the country. In this electoral system, the candidate who receives an absolute majority of votes cast during the first round of the election is declared the winner. If there is no absolute majority in the first round, the candidate who receives the absolute majority in the second round of the election will be the winner. A second round is organized for the two candidates who receive most votes in the first round but failed to receive an absolute majority.
Candidates for the presidential elections must be Malian by birth. Maintain the full capacity to exercise their civic and political rights, and be at least 35 years of age at the time of the election. Each candidate must personally declare his or her candidacy. Each declaration must be accompanied by the signature of ten members of the National Assembly or five elected municipal counselors in each of the ten regions and the District of Bamako. An elected official can only support one candidate for the presidency.
The election of the members of the National Assembly: Members of the National Assembly are elected for five year terms by universal direct suffrage. The Law 02-010 of March 5, 2002 is an organic law which sets the number of seats in the National Assembly at 147. The seats are distributed amongst the 49 cercles and 6 districts of Bamako. In order to receive a seat the population of the cercle or district must be 60,000 inhabitants. Nevertheless, some cercles have less than 40,000 inhabitants and still receive one seat at the National Assembly, despite not reaching the minimum required population. Some of the cercles of the region of Kidal, in the north of the country, fall within this category. Other cercles and districts of Bamako receive additional seats because their population size is much larger than 60,000 inhabitants. These administrative units receive one seat each time the population reaches an additional 40,000 to 60,000 inhabitants.
The process of voting for legislative elections is hybrid. It is a majoritarian system with two rounds, but it may—depending on the number of seats being contested—be for a single candidate or a party list. A single candidate runs for election for those electoral units with only one seat such as the Third District of Bamako. In this case, voters vote for one single candidate. Voters vote for party lists when their electoral districts have from two to seven seats at the National Assembly. If no list or candidate obtains an absolute majority in the first round a second round takes place 21 days after the first round. Only the two candidates or party lists which received the greatest number of votes takes part in the second round of the elections. The candidate or party list which obtains the largest percentage of the vote is elected to the National Assembly.
For the election of members of the National Assembly a majority system with runoff applies. In other words, if none of the lists of candidates obtains an absolute majority in the first round of elections, a second round is held the 21st day after the first round. Only the two candidates or lists of candidates that received the largest number of cast votes shall compete in the second round. And the winner shall be the candidate or list of candidates that receives the largest number of cast votes. The electoral constituencies are the cercles and the municipalities of the District of Bamako.
The election of national counselors: The members of the High Council of Local Governments (HCC) are called National Counselors. According to Article 99 of the Constitution, National Counselors represent local government entities of the Republic of Mali. The HCC’s mandate is to examine and provide advice on any regional and local development policies. It can make suggestions to the Government on issues pertaining to environmental protection and the improvement of the living conditions for the citizens living in local government entities.
National counselors are elected for five years in each region by indirect suffrage. They are elected by the municipal counselors of the regions or the District of Bamako. Each region, as well as the District of Bamako, has 8 counselors. Malians living abroad are represented by three National Counselors appointed according to the rules established by the High Council of Malians Living Abroad. There are a total of 75 counselors. In order to elect national counselors, a polling station is created in each cercle (usually in the main city of the cercle) and in the District of Bamako. The HCC cannot be dissolved and no member of the HCC can simultaneously be a member of the National Assembly.
The election of municipal counselors: Local governments are created and administered in accordance with prevailing laws and Articles 97 and 98 of the Constitution. They are independently governed by their elected counselors.
Municipalities are urban or rural. Urban municipalities consist of urban neighborhoods. Rural municipalities consist of villages and/or smaller entities. In each municipality, there is a municipal council managed by counselors elected by citizens residing in the municipality. All voters, at least 21 years old the year of the election, are eligible to run for a seat on the municipal council under the conditions set by law. The number of municipal counselors varies from 11 for municipalities with up to 10,000 inhabitants, to 45 for municipalities above 200,000 inhabitants.
Municipal counselors are elected for five year terms through a system of party lists of candidates elected proportionally without the possibility of mixing lists or casting preferential votes. Lists that do not receive 5% of the votes cast are eliminated. For each list candidates are elected in the order they are ranked. Seats are allocated on the basis of the highest average score. In a tied vote, the oldest among the candidates who can be potentially elected is declared the winner. In the case of a by-election to elect a counselor, the term of the seat will last until council elections are next scheduled to take place nation-wide. The by-election takes place following a decree approved by the council of ministers, and calling voters to re-elect councilors at a set date. Outgoing counselors are eligible. Municipal counselors are elected from the territory of their municipalities. There are a total of 10,777 municipal counselors in Mali.
Interpretation and political debates of electoral issues
The electoral law has been changed more often than any other law passed in Mali’s recent history. Indeed electoral issues have regularly been on the parliamentary agenda since 1991. The content of the proposed laws related to elections varies from one legislature to another and at times during the same legislature. This is a testimony to the dynamism of the democratic system and to the great importance that political leaders place on the rules and processes governing access to power.
These dynamics started with the Ordinance 91-074/P – CTSP of October 10, 1991 which laid the ground rules of the referendum and subsequent municipal, legislative and presidential elections in 1992.This ordinance was upheld until the passing of the 2011-085 Law of December 30, 2011. The last change in the electoral law was put forth by the authorities of the transitional government, on May 21, 2013 (Law 2013-017). The electoral law has been subject to many changes and has evolved considerably however, this has not affected the general principles of the democratic system. The changes are concerned with, but not limited to: the distribution of voters per polling station, the institutions in charge of organizing elections, the vote of refugees, the digitization of the electoral lists, and the national identification number (NINA) allocated to each voter.
In 1991 there were 1,500 voters for every polling station, in 2002 there were 700 voters per polling station, and it was further reduced to 500 in 2006. These changes were adopted to make the voting process faster and to bring polling stations closer to voters in an effort to make the voting experience more convenient. In 2013 for example, refugees were able to vote according to the provisions determined by law. Since May 31, 2013, more than twenty years after democratization, Mali has now seen its eighth electoral law.
In 1992, The Ministry in charge of territorial affairs was the sole entity in charge organizing elections and proclaiming provisional results. By 2002, The General Office in charge of elections (a major innovation brought by the February 12, 2002 Law) and the National Independent Electoral Commission (CENI), created by the electoral law 97-008 AN – RM of January 14, 1997, were both partially responsible for the electoral process in addition to the Ministry of Territorial Affairs.
The CENI was deeply restructured. Originally it was the entity in charge of organizing, supervising, and controlling the voting process, but it has since assumed the role of supervising and monitoring electoral operations. Additionally, since 2012, debates on electoral issues have dealt with, amongst other items: the composition of the CENI, the large number of entities involved in organizing elections, the procedure for creating electoral lists (lists based on electoral census, Rencensement Administratif à Caractère electoral (RACE), or biometric lists derived from the administrative compilation of personal records, Recensement Administratif à Vocation d’État Civil (RAVEC), absentee ballots, testimony based voting, low voter turnout (presidential elections: 29% in 1997; 38.81% in 2002; and 36.24% in 2007).
Biometric electoral lists derived from the RAVEC census were used July 28, 2013. The transitional government and the transitional National Assembly adopted a ‘Roadmap’ on January 29, 2013 in which it was determined that a biometric list would be used and that a number of legal texts concerning the organization of elections would be revisited. Indeed the majority of political and civil society leaders demanded that a biometric electoral list in 2012 be implemented in order to reduce electoral fraud during preparation for the elections. As indicated, the legal framework for the organization of elections in Mali remains likely to change based on recent events and the sociopolitical context of the country.
Useful links and documentary resources
- Official website of the government (National Assembly): http://www.primature.gov.ml/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=4811&Itemid=100061
- Official website of the government (Minister of Territorial Administration, Decentralization and Regional Planning): http://www.primature.gov.ml/index.php?option=com_content&view=category&layout=blog&id=23&Itemid=100088
- Official website of the Independent National Electoral Commission (CENI):
- Constitution of the Republic of Mali: http://unpan1.un.org/intradoc/groups/public/documents/cafrad/unpan002746.pdf.
- The Electoral Code of Mali (Loi n° 06-044/ du 4 septembre 2006 portant loi électorale): http://www.un.int/wcm/webdav/site/mali/shared/documents/fr/codestextes/1164130683.pdf
- Le rapport de la commission Daba Diawara, (2010) (This report contains 233 proposals some of which refer to a revision of the Constitution and other changes to other pieces of legislation of the Republic): https://sites.clas.ufl.edu/sahelresearch/files/Doc-1_Mali-Le-rapport-de-la-commission-Daba-Diawara-2010.pdf