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France hails Malian election, but challenges remain

Video by Melissa BELL

Text by Leela JACINTO , Thomas HUBERT

Latest update : 2013-08-04

France has welcomed Mali's "return to constitutional order" after Sunday's presidential election. But analysts warn against complacency as candidates await the results with rival political parties gearing up to declare victory.

A day after Mali seemingly defied the odds to hold its first election since last year’s military coup, France hailed Sunday’s presidential vote as a “great success”.

French President François Hollande on Monday welcomed the smooth running of the 2013 Malian presidential election. “This election marks Mali’s return to constitutional order after the victory over the terrorists and the liberation of the country," said Hollande, adding that "the unprecedented turnout" demonstrated “the commitment of the Malian people to democratic values”.

His prime minister, Jean-Marc Ayrault, also hailed the vote. "Congratulations are in order,” said Ayrault. “The Mali elections went off well…for France, it is a great success," he added.

Six months after Hollande dispatched troops to the former French colony to stop an Islamist advance, France had a lot riding on the success of Sunday’s election.

Despite calls for a postponement, France – and to a lesser extent, the rest of the international community – had pushed for the election to be held on schedule.

Donaig Le Du reporting from Kidal

Sunday’s poll was conducted fairly smoothly with no reports of violence and a large number of Malians casting their ballots, defying security fears and disregarding Islamist threats to derail the vote.

Official turnout figures have not been released, but analysts say the voting rate could exceed the 36 percent achieved in the 2007 elections.

Reporting from the Malian capital of Bamako, FRANCE 24’s Melissa Bell noted that Sunday’s vote had sent positive signals to the international community.

“The first bar was that it went ahead despite the threat of attacks from Islamists. The second was that turnout levels seemed fairly high,” explained Bell. “Those two bars have now been passed and I don’t think anyone can now say that it [the election] lacked credibility or democratic legitimacy,” she said.

But as Mali awaits the results of the polls, with ballot counting underway, Bell noted that the West African nation had entered a potentially tricky period.

“The danger is now what happens from the headquarters of the political parties to the streets of Bamako ahead of the announcement of the results,” said Bell.

Leading parties proclaim victory, call for calm

Hours after polls closed on Sunday evening, local media as well as political parties were collating preliminary findings from polling stations across the vast West African nation.

Under Mali’s electoral rules, the country’s election commission has until Friday to announce the official results.

But Bell noted that in the interim period, the country’s two leading parties – the URD (Union for the Republic and Democracy) and RPM (Rally for Mali) – have been using their considerable party machinery to “spin their message to the wider public”.

RPM candidate Ibrahim Boubacar Keita (known as “IBK”) and the URD’s Soumaila Cissé are considered the frontrunners among the list of 27 presidential candidates.

RPM projections on Sunday night put Keita in the lead, which led to hundreds of supporters gathering at the party’s Bamako headquarters and chanting, "IBK – the man we need." Similar scenes of jubilation unfolded at Cissé’s URD party headquarters in the Malian capital.

“That’s the situation in Bamako right now, with each side proclaiming victory and each side calling on the other to ask their activists to remain calm ahead of the announcement of the official results,” said Bell.

Election tied to France’s standing in Mali

While the waiting period may be tense, experts warn that the real risks lie after the official results are declared.

In an interview with RFI (Radio France Internationale) on Monday, Gilles Yabi, West Africa director of ICG (International Crisis Group), said he was “cautious” about the situation in Mali.

"When you have a system in which there are many flaws, the losers have the latitude to expose these flaws as being responsible for results, which they can claim are biased and therefore not credible,” explained Yabi.

If there are any claims of electoral flaws or a lack of credibility in Sunday’s poll, it could undermine France’s position in Mali, noted FRANCE 24’s Gauthier Rybinski. “If the president-elect is considered illegitimate, it would rebound on France and the French troops there could be accused of being occupying troops,” explained Rybinski.

More than a year after the fall of northern Mali to rebel and Islamist groups, this West African nation remains deeply divided, with suspicion of the Tuareg separatist MNLA running high. Many Malians blame the Tuareg separatist group for the crises that enveloped the country last year and are suspicious of France’s relations with the group.

While the French military intervention sparked a wave of popular support for the former colonial power, any perceived failure of Sunday’s hastily conducted poll could snap that support.

If none of the 27 candidates obtain an outright majority in Sunday’s poll, a second round run-off between the two leading candidates is scheduled for August 11.

Date created : 2013-07-29

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