Bamako - Malian and French leaders on Monday praised the
calm and smooth-running presidential vote in Mali, the first election since a
coup last year led to an Islamist insurgency in the north.
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
Local and international observers noted a strong turnout in
the populous south, although official data have yet to be released, giving rise
to optimism that the voting rate would exceed the 36% achieved in 2007
French President Francois Hollande hailed the Malian vote,
"marked by a good turnout and an absence of any major incident".
"Congratulations are in order that the Mali elections
went off well... For France, it is a great success," said his prime
minister, Jean-Marc Ayraul.
France had a lot riding on a successful election, having
pressured its former colony into a quick vote which would allow it to start
withdrawing most of the 4 500 troops it sent in to stop the Islamists from
advancing towards the capital Bamako.
Even in the northern regional capital of Kidal, a stronghold
of Mali's Tuareg rebellion and the scene of recent deadly ethnic violence,
voters cast their ballots in an atmosphere of calm, although the turnout was
thought to have been low.
"I'm a happy man. We rose to the challenge of voting in
Kidal, a zone of insecurity where almost everyone is armed, without incident,
without a single shot, and no one could have imagined that a few weeks
ago," said regional governor Adama Kamissoko.
Louis Michel, the head of the 100-strong European Union
election observation mission who visited Kidal for a few hours during voting,
spoke of the "huge enthusiasm" of those who did make it to the ballot
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
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 chairperson
of the Commission of the West African Economic and Monetary Union.
Thousands of Keita's supporters massed on his party headquarters
in Bamako overnight as news of his apparent lead was broadcast on local radio,
an AFP correspondent at the scene reported.
"IBK - the man we need," they chanted. One
supporter shouted: "It is the people who have spoken!"
A large crowd also gathered at Keita's home and convoys of
cars circulated, horns blaring in celebration at what his supporters were
If no candidate obtains an absolute majority, a second round
run-off between the two top vote-getters will take place on 11 August.