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Africa

Malians head to polls for presidential election run-off

© Pierre René-Worms

Text by News Wires

Latest update : 2013-08-11

Malians will cast their vote on Sunday in the crucial second round of the country’s first election since last year’s coup. Voters will have a choice between former prime minister Ibrahim Boubacar Keita and ex-finance minister Soumaila Cisse.

Malians voted Sunday in a watershed presidential election run-off expected to usher in a new dawn of peace and stability in the conflict-scarred nation.

Almost seven million voters have a choice between former premier Ibrahim Boubacar Keita and ex-finance minister Soumaila Cisse to lead Mali’s recovery following a military coup that ignited an Islamist insurgency and a French-led military intervention.

Both candidates declared themselves confident of victory in the run-off, called after none of the 27 candidates in the first round on July 28 achieved an outright majority.

The election, the first since 2007, is crucial for unlocking more than $4 billion in aid promised after international donors halted contributions in the wake of last year’s coup.

Several polling stations visited by AFP in Bamako early Sunday were almost deserted after heavy rain fell on the capital.

“The rain is trying to ruin our day. I hope it stops, otherwise they will have to extend the voting hours,” said Oumar Toure, one of the few voters who had turned up at a polling station set up in a city centre school.

An AFP photographer at a polling station on the outskirts of the city reported a healthy turnout, however.

The run-up to the vote was largely uneventful, with cities and towns deserted as Malians—over 90 percent of whom are Muslim—stayed at home to celebrate the Eid al-Fitr festival marking the end of the holy month of Ramadan.

The rivals have faced off before, losing the 2002 presidential election to Amadou Toumani Toure, who was overthrown by a military junta in March last year as he was preparing to end his final term in office.

The return to democratic rule will allow France to withdraw most of the 4,500 troops it sent to Mali in January to oust Al Qaeda-linked extremists who had occupied the north in the chaos that followed the coup, imposing a brutal regime of sharia law characterised by executions and amputations.

Keita, who is considered the favourite, was more than 20 percentage points ahead of his rival in the first round but Cisse has remained optimistic.

“I am confident because it is not about adding to the votes from the first round. There will be new votes, it is a new election. Everything restarts from zero,” the 63-year-old told AFP.

Cisse had complained about widespread fraud in the first round while more than 400,000 ballots from a turnout of around 3.5 million were declared spoiled.

Mali’s Constitutional Court rejected the allegations, however, confirming that Keita, 68, had won 39.8 percent, while Cisse attracted a 19.7 percent share.

Keita claims to have the support of most of the candidates eliminated in the first round and is backed by Mali’s influential religious establishment, while Cisse has been endorsed by Adema, Mali’s largest political party.

“My first priority would be the reconciliation of the country,” Keita said Friday. “After the trauma that it has suffered, a new start is needed.”

A UN peacekeeping mission integrating more than 6,000 African soldiers is charged with ensuring security on Sunday and in the months after the election. By the end of the year it will have grown to 11,200 troops and 1,400 police.

The country of more than 14 million remains the continent’s third-largest gold producer, but its $10.6 billion economy contracted by 1.2 percent last year, and widespread poverty has contributed to unrest in the north, with several armed groups vying for control in the vacuum left when the Islamists fled.

The region is home predominantly to lighter-skinned Tuareg and Arab populations who accuse the sub-Saharan ethnic groups that live in the more prosperous south of marginalising them.

In the restive northern districts of Gao, Timbuktu and Kidal, polling began in an atmosphere of calm, with voters reporting a strong turnout.

“I’m at polling centre number four in Gao and there are already a thousand or so people here,” Ousmane Maiga, a member of a local youth movement, told AFP by telephone.

“People here are obsessed with this second round.”

Storms caused heavy flooding two days ago in Tessalit and local government source said voting had begun “tentatively” in the town, part of the far-northern Kidal region which has been the centre of several Tuareg uprisings since the 1960s.

(AFP)

Date created : 2013-08-11

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