BAMAKO: Mali's president-elect Ibrahim Boubacar Keita pledged on Wednesday to choose a cabinet based on competence rather than party affiliation or family ties, a sign he will break a tradition of weak consensus governments.
The comments were Keita's first since he won a strong mandate with 78 percent of the vote in an Aug. 11 election that is due to draw a line under a coup last year and a French-backed war against al Qaeda-linked rebels who seized the desert north.
Keita pledged reconciliation and peace but, despite securing the support of virtually every other first-round loser in the run-off against Soumaila Cisse, hinted he would form a technocrat-heavy government.
"Let me be clear. There is no question of sharing out the cake. I have not promised that and it will not happen," Keita said, speaking in Bambara, the local language spoken by many in Mali's populous south.
"We need to put Mali to work and this work will be done by those who are competent. It will not be a question of families or political parties," he added.
Before it collapsed last year, Mali was long seen as an island of political stability in West Africa, partly due its system of governments of national unity set up by former president Amadou Toumani Toure.
While avoiding post-election violence seen elsewhere in the region, critics say the tradition of coopting parties denied Mali any form of opposition and fomented a culture of corruption and impunity that led to the northern rebellion and a coup in the capital.
Keita has a reputation for firmness but will be expected to reward some of the 22 of the 25 losing first-round candidates who threw their weight behind him in the run off.
Cisse, an ex-finance minister, was widely praised for conceding to Keita soon after the vote and since pledged to lead the opposition.
A peaceful and uncontested vote should allow France to stick to its planned troop withdrawal and pave the way for donors to unblock some $4 billion in promised aid to rebuild the country.
One of Keita's first tasks will be to conclude negotiations, with the separatist Tuareg MNLA rebels who still operate in parts of the north but allowed the vote to take place.
In keeping with a deal between the MNLA and Bamako from before the elections, Keita must ensure that a final agreement is signed within 60 days after he formed his government.
The U.S. State Department praised Mali for the election but stressed the need to restore civilian control and oversight to the military in order to push through security reforms and national reconciliation.
The U.S. comments follow the controversial promotion last week of Amadou Aya Sanogo, the army captain who led the coup but has since been handed the rank of four-star general.