Bamako - Malians voted on
Sunday in a presidential election it is hoped will provide a fresh start
for the West African nation after more than a year of turmoil, war and
an army coup.
Candidates wound up campaigns
promising reconstruction and reconciliation. But underscoring security
fears despite a successful French offensive against al Qaeda-linked
fighters, an Islamist group threatened to attack polling stations.
and Islamist rebels swept across the desert north of the former French
colony last year shortly after soldiers ousted the president.
Thousands of French troops halted a rebel advance in January and United Nations
peacekeepers are deploying to stabilize the broken nation. A successful
vote on Sunday would take the gold-producing country another step
came to choose a president capable of managing the country," said
Mamoutou Samake, 46, an agricultural engineer and the first to vote at a
polling centre in the Banankabougou neighborhood of the capital Bamako.
"The priority of the new president must be to reestablish peace and security. The rest will come with time," he said.
was taking place at about 21 000 polling stations across Mali and long
queues formed in the dirt courtyards of schools in the bustling, lush
riverside capital in the south.
the northern desert town of Timbuktu, seized by al Qaeda-linked rebels
during last year's rebellion, people turned up in large numbers.
were, however, some minor delays to the official 08:00 GMT opening of
polls as election workers awaited the last-minute delivery of voting
Most of the
front-runners are established political figures over the last 20 years
of Malian politics so there is little likelihood of a radical overhaul.
former prime ministers - Ibrahim Boubacar Keita, known universally as
IBK, and Modibo Sidibe - 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. And relative political newcomer Dramane Dembele,
chosen as candidate of Mali's largest party, ADEMA, could appeal to
A second round will take place on August 11 if no candidate wins over 50 percent of the vote.
In the run-up to the vote, experts had warned that a rushed election might lead to challenges and further crises.
election officials say they have distributed 85 percent of the ID cards
and a free and fair race in a field of 26 men and one women could take
Louis Michel, head of the
European Union's election observer mission, said he was "positively
surprised" by preparations and that the conditions for the vote were
"A month ago, there
were a lot of doubts. But it has come together. Everyone realizes that
this interim government has to end as its inherent fragility and
uncertainty has been so costly for Mali," said U.S. Ambassador Mary Beth
"LOOKING FOR UNITY"
am very satisfied with the general voting conditions. I think that this
is the best poll organized since our independence," interim President
Dioncounda Traore said after voting in Bamako Saturday morning.
"Democracy is the law of the majority. I ask that all candidates accept the result of the ballot boxes," he added.
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
Donors who slashed aid after the coup have promised more than 3 billion euros in reconstruction assistance after the election.
new president will have to oversee peace talks with separatist Tuareg
rebels who have agreed to allow the vote to take place in areas they
operate in but have yet to lay down their arms.
France is hoping a successful vote will allow it to scale down its military
presence in Mali from around 3 000 troops currently. A 12 600-strong
U.N. mission is rolling out.
there have been few counter-attacks by Islamists since they were
scattered from their northern strongholds, MUJWA, one of the groups that
occupied Mali's north last year, on Saturday threatened to attack
"Places of the
so-called election will be a target for the strikes of the Mujaahideen,"
Mauritania's Nouakchoute News Agency quoted the group as saying in a
The group also warned what it called the Muslims of Mali against taking part in the elections and urged them to stay away.