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Africa

Counting begins in Mali after a calm first day of voting

© AFP

Text by FRANCE 24

Latest update : 2013-07-29

Voting took place across Mali on Sunday and counting has now begun in the country’s first presidential elections since last year’s coup. Follow events as they unfold with FRANCE 24’s correspondents on the ground.

Some seven million Malians were expected to have voted on Sunday, as polls closed for the country’s first presidential elections since last year's March coup sparked a takeover of large parts of the north of the country by Tuareg separatists and Islamic extremists.

On Sunday evening, FRANCE 24 reporters in Mali said the turnout was surprisingly high in some cities like Gao and Bamako, though some questioned Mali’s readiness as organisation difficulties, mainly in Kidal, left voters with no information as to where they should cast their vote.

The election day also closed in a calm atmosphere, without any major incident, despite concerns over security after Islamic militants threatened to attack polling stations.

Counting now begins, though no results are expected before Tuesday or Wednesday.

23.00 - Now that polling stations have closed and counting begun, the attention turns to the turnout, the results and their consequences.

In Gao, Eve Irvine reports “snakes of people standing for hours on end” to take part in a day that may “turn a page, leaving the violent and frightening past couple of months behind.” For them, electing a new president comes as "a sign of freedom."

There are still no concrete figures on the participation levels yet, but people in Gao are very confident they will go over the 40% that Mali has never surpassed before in a presidential poll, she said.

Melissa Bell, in Bamako, says the capital will be the first place to get results, as counting begun just hours after polling closed.

And though there will be no official results before at least Tuesday, soon, Bamako will have an idea preliminary results. The difficulty, says Bell, will be for the candidates who think they have won to resist claiming victory, and for those who think they have lost, not to begin talking about protesting or contesting the results.

Professor Keenan, from the University of London, told FRANCE 24 that the election was a positive step forward, but “the big work still has to happen, including the peace negotiations with the North.”

In the northern city Kidal, Donaig Le Du says the most important thing is not the turnout but simply that the election actually took place, as that “will help the newly elected president, who will be able to enter negotiations with the Tuareg separatists.”
 

21.00 - The calm in which the election took place today came as a relief to many, as Islamic militants had threatened to attack polling stations. The Malian army and International community made sure the voting could go ahead without any major violent incidents.

Gao's mayor: " Today will change our daily lives"

“The security was very tight and prevented any suicide bombings” said Philomène Rémy in Gao, “a thousand French troops where spread out in the region.”
French troops patrolled outside the polling stations in Kidal and UN soldiers conduct strict security checks at the entrances. 

Donaig Le Du reported a few minor incidents. A gathering on one of the airport’s landing strips with a sign saying “Azawad Mali, no,” while some Malians on scooters also paraded outside polling stations waving Azawad’s flag.
 

20.00 - Polling stations are now closing across Mali, without any major incidents. The turnout was surprisingly good, at least in Gao and Bamako.

Philomène Rémy, a FRANCE 24 correspondent in the northern city of Gao, said the voting day started very early, and ended with a considerable turnout, despite the 40°C heat.

Donaig Le Du reporting from Kidal

However in Kidal - the birthplace of last year's uprising by Tuareg separatists - voters appeared to turnout in much lower numbers with “only 10-20% in some polling stations, but up to 0% in the more remote places, “ said Donaig Le Du.

“It’s difficult to know whether people wanted to vote or not as many of those who wanted to vote were unable to find exactly where they should vote,” referring to the organisation difficulties Kidal faced earlier in the day.

17.00 - So far things seem to be running relatively smoothly in Mali as the country’s citizens continue to vote, with signs of a decent turnout in key cities such as Gao and Bamako and no reports of violence or security problems.

However, RFI reports that a number of voters in Bamako and the northern town of Timbuktu have been unable to find the polling stations – similar to the problems reported by FRANCE 24’s correspondent Donaig Le Du in the separatist stronghold of Kidal earlier in the day.

Meanwhile, polls across Mali are due to close at 18.00 this evening, after which counting will begin. If none of the candidates wins a majority, a second round run-off between the two leading candidates will be held on August 11.

14.00 - Mali’s interim President Dioncounda Traoré has cast his vote in the capital Bamako, reports Melissa Bell.

Speaking to FRANCE 24 as he left the polling station, Traoré struck an upbeat note, saying he believes so far things are going “extremely smoothly” and that today’s election has been one of the most successful Mali has ever held.

Participation is likely to be key to judging the success of the election as well as the legitimacy of the eventual winner and, in Bamako at least, turnout seems to be high, with queues forming outside polling stations.

“Historically the turnout in Malian elections has not been extraordinarily high, but authorities here are very keen it should reach at least close to the 35 percent that was recorded at the time of the last presidential election,” Bell says.

But whatever the outcome, the results are likely to be scrutinised and possibly challenged by some of the losing candidates, she explains. “You can almost bet your money there will be some kind of contesting of the results at some point by someone, this election having been from the outset described as one that is far less than perfect.”

12.00 - One of the concerns leading up to these elections was that thousands of Malian

Voting in the malian community of Montreuil

expatriates around the world would be unable to take part because of delays in sending them their voter ID cards.

One of Mali’s largest expat communities is in the Paris suburb of Montreuil, home to an estimated 7,000 Malians. Reporting from the suburb, FRANCE 24’s Rosalie e’Silva says that so far few people have turned out to cast their vote.

“Voting has been open officially for four hours now and I’ve yet to see one vote cast,” she said.

One polling station in the suburb refused to open because it said too few people had received their ID cards. At another voting centre, people were being turned away because the officials set to oversee the voting procedure had yet to arrive.

“There’s an overwhelming sense of frustration and anger that people are there to vote but are being turned away,” e’Silva added.

11.00 - The election’s organisational difficulties seem to be causing some problems

Organisation difficulties in Kidal

in the northern town of Kidal, where voters are struggling to find the right polling stations, reports FRANCE 24’s Donaig Le Du.

One of the reasons for this, she says, is that many of the lists of registered voters, which had been posted on the walls of public buildings, were blown away by high winds last night, Le Du explained.

Many in the town, however, simply do not want to take part in the vote “because they are opposed to being part of Mali”, she says.

Kidal is a Tuareg separatist stronghold where an uneasy truce has been in place since a peace agreement was signed last month. Just last week, a group of election workers were kidnapped while on their way to distribute voter ID cards in the town.

Donaig Le Du reports from Kidal

Altogether, turnout in the town has been fairly low so far, says Le Du.

10.00 - In Gao, Eve Irvine reports that people have been queuing since 6 a.m. outside polling stations to cast their votes.

The city in central Mali was among those captured by Tuareg separatists in March 2012 before falling into the hands of Islamist militants and eventually being recaptured by the French military in January.

The atmosphere in the city as polling stations opened this morning was “joyous”, Irvine reported.

“People were saying they were really very proud and very happy to cast their votes today. Since we arrived in Gao they’ve told us that electing the next president for them is the final sign that they are fully free from the months of occupation,” she said.

However, with Gao the site of multiple suicide bombings in recent months and with

SECURITY TIGHT AS POLLS OPEN IN GAO

Islamists threatening to target the city on election day, security levels are high, with local army and police backed up by UN and French forces.

09.00 - Reporting from the capital Bamako, FRANCE 24’s Melissa Bell says that there are two big questions as the vote gets underway: “Will it happen without incident and will the participation level be sufficiently strong that Malians will not question the results?”

After the polls, the 28 candidates will be holed up in their campaign headquarters awaiting the results, she says. Some of the leading candidates, among them four former prime ministers, will have a good sense of the results by this evening.

“The big difficulty then for the authorities will be to get the official results out before the candidates can begin claiming success,” says Bell.

Date created : 2013-07-28

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