The first political party in Mali, the Sudan Progressive Party (Parti Soudanais Progressiste—PSP) was an affiliate of the French Socialist Party. It dominated political activity in French Sudan for 10 years. It was followed by the Sudanese Union, a revolutionary, anticolonial party, which had its main strength in the towns. In the two elections of autumn 1946, the Sudanese Union won 32% and 38% of the total votes.
The PSP continued to maintain its majority in the Territorial Assembly until the end of 1955, when a split in its ranks enabled the Union to capture a majority. By March 1957, the Sudanese Union won 60 of the 70 seats in the new Territorial Assembly, and in the Legislative Assembly election of March 1959 it obtained 76.3% of the votes and all the seats. After the break with Senegal, it emerged as the only party in the Republic of Mali, one with control that extended even to the smallest Muslim villages through its national political bureau. In the parliamentary elections of April 1964, the single list of 80 deputies presented by the Sudanese Union was elected by 99.5% of the voters. The party was disbanded at the time of the 1968 coup d'état.
The Democratic Union of Malian People (Union Démocratique de Peuple Malien—UDPM) was created as the sole legal political party in 1979. It chose the presidential candidate and the single list of candidates for the National Assembly. In National Assembly elections in 1979, UDPM candidates received 99.89% of the votes cast; in 1982, 99.82%; and in 1985, 99.47%; The party's general secretary since 1979 has been Gen. Moussa Traoré.
Shortly after the military coup in March 1991, some 48 parties were functioning, of which 23 contested the 1992 elections and ten elected deputies to the National Assembly. The Alliance for Democracy in Mali (ADEMA) was the majority party, but with the change in prime minister and government on 12 April 1993, opposition parties were brought into cabinet; the National Committee for a Democratic Initiative (CNID) gained three cabinet posts.
In 1997, ADEMA held 76 seats in parliament, CNID held nine. Other parties represented in the National Assembly included the Sudanese Union/African Democratic Rally (US/RAD) with eight seats; the Popular Movement for the Development of the Republic of West Africa with six seats; Rally for Democracy and Progress (RDP) and the Union for Democracy and Development (UDD) with four seats each; and four other parties with the remaining seats. The UDPM, the former ruling party, attempted to relaunch itself in mid-1993, but the Supreme Court rejected its application for official recognition. It applied again in 1995 and was again rejected. Splits in ADEMA and CNID in 1995 resulted in the formation of the Movement for Independence, Renaissance, and African Integration (MIRIA)— headed by former vice president Traoré, the Patriotic Movement for Renovation (MPR), and the party for National Renovation (PARENA). In anticipation of the 1997 elections, PARENA announced it would form an alliance with ADEMA. However, flaws in the electoral process led to cancellation of the results by the Constitutional Court. The repeat elections, though ruled free and fair by international observers, were boycotted by 18 opposition parties.
In 2000, ADEMA had not lost its grip on the National Assembly, holding 130 of 147 seats, with 12 more held by allied parties, and only 5 by the opposition. Despite the tradition of male domination in Mali, 18 seats were held by women, and women held six held cabinet posts in the government.
Elections to the Assembly were last held 14 July and 28 July 2002 giving ATT's government a substantial show of popular support with the following breakdown of seats: Hope 2002 coalition 66, ADEMA 51, other parties 30. Despite ATT's attempt to ensure balance in the cabinet, the two main coalitions Espoir 2002 (Hope 2002) and Alliance pour la République et la démocratie (ARD) criticized the new cabinet as being unrepresentative. L'Espoir 2002 objected to having received only two positions more than the ARD, even though they had backed the president in the second round of the elections. Nevertheless, Espoir did take most of the non-ministerial parliamentary positions.
One 1 June 2003, in the presence of over 5,000 people gathered from around the country and abroad, Soumaila Cisse, vice president of ADEMA, who lost against ATT in the presidential election, announced the creation of a new party, Rally for Republic and Democracy (URD). The URD was expected to welcome an outflow of ADEMA supporters, perhaps as many as 25 deputies. ADEMA was working hard to stem the flow and estimated that no more than 10 of its deputies would defect to the UDR.