Malian and French leaders on Monday praised the high turnout and smooth running of Mali’s presidential vote, the first election since a coup last year led to an Islamist insurgency. There were no reports of violence in Sunday’s poll despite threats to “strike” polling stations by armed Islamists who had occupied northern Mali before being ousted in January by a French-led military occupation.
The European Union’s observation mission reported that turnout was around 50 percent, putting paid to pessimism over the vote’s viability. President Francois Hollande of former colonial power France hailed the ballot for being “marked by a good turnout and an absence of any major incident”.
“Congratulations are in order that the Mali elections passed off well. For France, it is a great success,” said his prime minister, Jean-Marc Ayrault. France had a lot riding on a successful election, having pressed for a quick vote which would allow Mali to start withdrawing most of the 4,500 troops it sent in to stop the Islamists from advancing towards the capital Bamako.
Sunday’s vote was the first since an uprising by Tuareg separatists sparked a military coup in March last year which toppled democratically elected president Amadou Toumani Toure, plunging Mali into a political crisis which opened the way for Islamists to occupy the vast desert north for 10 months.
The authorities have until the end of Friday to announce the results, although preliminary findings collated by journalists in polling stations gave a clear early lead to former premier Ibrahim Boubacar Keita, sparking celebrations among his supporters.
The unofficial projections based on the accounts of reporters watching counts across the country suggest that 69-year-old Keita, known universally as IBK, could even cause an upset and win the first-round vote outright. Although there are 27 candidates, analysts have characterised the election as a two-horse race, with Keita a frontrunner alongside Soumaila Cisse, 63, a former finance minister and erstwhile chairman of the Commission of the West African Economic and Monetary Union. Thousands of Keita’s supporters massed at his party headquarters in Bamako overnight as news of his apparent lead was broadcast on local radio.
A large crowd also gathered at Keita’s home and convoys of cars circulated, horns blaring in celebration at what his supporters were calling victory. If no candidate obtains an absolute majority, a second-round run-off between the two top vote-getters will take place on August 11.