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Low turnout, unrest mars hopes for Mali legislative poll

Text by FRANCE 24

Latest update : 2013-11-24

Low-level unrest and poor turnout undermined hopes that Sunday's parliamentary poll would help place Mali firmly back on the road to democracy after a 2012 coup led to an Islamist takeover in the north and a French military intervention.

Low-level unrest and poor voter turnout undermined hopes that Sunday's parliamentary poll would help place Mali firmly on the road back to democracy after a 2012 military coup toppled the president and sparked an insurgency that saw Islamist militants and Tuareg separatists seize the country's north.

Some 6.5 million Malians were eligible to elect a new national assembly, with more than 1,000 candidates running for 147 seats. The country elected its first post-conflict president in August.

FRANCE 24 correspondent Nicolas Germain described seeing "very low turnout" in the capital, Bamako. "There were no queues today," he said. "Elections officials told us they were quite bored, as they had to wait about fifteen minutes between each voter."

Voting took place amid an upsurge in violence by al Qaeda-linked rebels who remain in the vast northern desert, an ever-present danger to French and African troops who are tasked with providing security for the election alongside the Malian army.

Tuareg separatists in northeastern Mali prevented voting from taking place in the town of Talataye, 180 kilometres (110 miles) east of the city of Gao, a Malian military source told AFP late on Sunday.

"No vote, we want independence," chanted the protesters, who also destroyed ballot boxes.

Separatists also smashed car windows in the rebel stronghold of Kidal, injuring at least one woman, according to a West African military source in the city.

Militants shelled Gao on Thursday, and although their rockets fell short of the main urban centre, the attack underlined the continuing security threat.

Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, or AQIM, and the Movement for Oneness and Jihad in West Africa (MUJAO) splinter group have launched sporadic attacks since being ousted from their northern strongholds by French and African troops earlier this year.

Much of the concern ahead of the polls has been focused on the largely lawless region surrounding Kidal, occupied for five months by Tuareg separatists until a ceasefire accord signed in June allowed the Malian army to regain control. Despite the deal, Malian forces exchanged fire with Tuareg rebels in the city in September.

In a grisly reminder of the ongoing security crisis, on November 2 al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, or AQIM, kidnapped and shot dead two journalists who had come to Kidal, the regional capital, which lies 1,500 kilometres (930 miles) northeast of Bamako.

Key figures in Mali election

- Number of voters: Approximately 6.5 million

- Candidates: 1,141, of which 156 are women

- Parliament seats: 147

- Voting system: Direct majority voting for a list

- Voting lists: 410

- Polling stations: 20,268

- Opening hours: 8 a.m. to 6 p.m.

- International observers: 3,700

The journalists worked for Radio France Internationale (RFI), FRANCE 24's sister station.

Troops provide security

United Nation peacekeepers, the Malian army and French troops were tasked with ensuring voter safety in the region, the stronghold of a Tuareg rebel group, the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad or MNLA.

A UN peacekeeping mission, expected eventually to number more than 12,000 troops, has allowed France to withdraw all but 1,000 of the 4,500 troops it sent to its former colony.

Analysts had predicted a turnout lower than the 50 percent achieved in the presidential election won by Ibrahim Boubacar Keita, a former prime minister, in August.

"I wanted to express my joy at coming to vote," President Keita said after casting his ballot in Bamako on Sunday.

The ruling Rally for Mali (RPM) party had vowed to deliver "a comfortable majority" to smooth the path for the reforms Keita plans to put in place to rebuild Mali's stagnant economy and quiet simmering ethnic tensions in the north.

But Bamako-based social scientist Mamadou Samake told AFP that it would be "difficult or impossible" for any one political party to manage an overall majority, predicting that the RPM will need to form a coalition government.

The election was supervised by hundreds of Malian and international observers, including a European Union mission and a 100-strong team from the Economic Community of West African States regional bloc, or ECOWAS.

If no party is able to form a government following Sunday's vote, a second round of voting will take place on December 15.

(FRANCE 24 with AFP)

Date created : 2013-11-24

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