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Africa

Mali awaits result of landmark presidential vote

© Pierre-René Worms

Video by Melissa BELL

Text by FRANCE 24

Latest update : 2013-08-04

Mali voted on Sunday for a new president in an election that saw large voter turnout, in the first election since a military coup helped plunge the country into chaos. Provisional results are expected on Tuesday.

Ballot counting began in Mali after voters turned out in large numbers on Sunday for a presidential election they hope will provide a fresh start for the West African nation after more than a year of turmoil, war and an army coup.

Polling ended at 18:00 GMT on Sunday, and as night fell, officials started tallying results. Election officials at a school in Bamako used electric lamps to check ballot papers for thumbprints and witnesses sat at wooden students’ desks jotting down results using mobile phones for light.

Observers said they had not yet received reports of major incidents, a positive sign that Mali is moving toward recovery after a March 2012 coup followed by the occupation of the desert north by separatist Tuareg rebels and al Qaeda-linked fighters.

“The turnout was stronger than expected,” said FRANCE 24’s Melissa Bell. “We can expect to see results in the coming days.”

After some initial delays, Malians crammed into courtyards of schools turned into polling stations for the day. Across the country, polling stations were protected by Malian, French and UN troops.

The high participation rate could breathe life into Mali’s 20-year-old democracy, whose frailties were exposed by the coup last year.

Most polling stations visited by Reuters journalists in Bamako recorded participation between 55 and 65 percent. Turnout in Timbuktu town was over 50 percent in the centres visited.

Turnout for a presidential election in Mali has never topped 40 percent. Just 25 percent of the capital’s registered voters took part in the last presidential race in 2007.

Proud to vote

In Timbuktu, seized by al Qaeda-linked rebels last year, Malian soldiers manned roadblocks. People voted in large numbers in defiance of a threat from an Islamist group to attack polling stations. No incidents were reported during the day.

“We are still scared, but we are proud of being Malian and risking our security to come and vote,” 25-year-old Timbuktu resident Maty Balkissa Toure told Reuters.

Voters reported high security around polling stations in Kidal, where just 30,000 votes are at stake but the stand-off with Tuareg MNLA rebels has not yet been resolved.

Mali’s 6.8 million registered voters chose from 26 men and one woman. The field included two former prime ministers - Ibrahim Boubacar Keita, known universally as IBK, and Modibo Sidibe. The two are expected to be among the top finishers.

Soumaila Cisse, a respected economist, former finance minister and native of the region of Timbuktu, is also among the leading candidates. Relative political newcomer Dramane Dembele, chosen as the candidate of Mali’s largest party, ADEMA, could appeal to young voters.

Provisional results are expected from the interior ministry on Tuesday. A second round is due to take place on Aug. 11 if no candidate wins more than 50 percent of the vote.

‘Law of majority’

World powers, led by France, have been pushing for the vote to be held to replace the weak interim administration that has led the country since April 2012. Some experts had warned that a rushed election might lead to challenges and further crises.

But those concerns were largely assuaged on election day.

Mali’s interim President Dioncounda Traore said the vote had been the best the country had organised since independence in 1960.

“Democracy is the law of the majority. I ask that all candidates accept the result of the ballot boxes,” he said.

Before last year’s collapse, Mali, a poor nation straddling the south of the Sahara, had built up a reputation for stability and become Africa’s No. 3 gold producer. Donors who slashed aid after the coup have promised more than 3 billion euros in reconstruction assistance after the election.

The new president will have to oversee peace talks with Tuareg rebels who agreed to allow the vote to take place in areas they operate in but have not yet disarmed.

A successful vote will also allow France to scale down its military presence in Mali from around 3,000 troops. A 12,600-strong UN mission is rolling out.

Donors are hoping that by voting in large numbers Malians will revive a democracy that, although it may have been touted abroad as a model of stability, failed to mobilise enthusiasm at home, fostering a corrupt, weak system that lacked checks and balances.

“This rebellion and the coup may have taught us a lesson that we need to build a proper democracy,” said Gossy Dramera, a member of parliament on his way to vote.

(FRANCE with wires)

 

Date created : 2013-07-29

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