Mali Vote Count Starts in Presidential Poll Seen Mostly Peaceful

(Bloomberg) -- Election officials in Mali are due to start counting ballot papers after a presidential runoff that observers say was mostly peaceful, despite sporadic incidents of violence in regions where the nation is battling Islamist militancy.

Voters decided Sunday whether President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita should win a second five-year mandate after securing 41 percent of the votes in the first round on July 29. His main opponent, 68-year-old Soumaila Cisse, got 18 percent of ballots cast in the initial race and hasn’t been successful in uniting a fractured opposition to back him.

Mali Vote Count Starts in Presidential Poll Seen Mostly Peaceful

“All stations were staffed, the electoral material was sufficient, and ballot boxes were correctly sealed,” Cecile Kyenge, head of the European Union’s observer mission, told reporters. The EU had observers posted at 300 of about 23,000 polling stations.

In the Timbuktu region in the center, which is among the hardest hit under a tide of jihadist attacks, one election worker was abducted and killed while unidentified people stole ballot boxes at another station, said Boubacar Thera, a spokesman for a regional observer mission. Some voting stations remained closed after armed men threatened voters, said Thera.

The front line in a regional war against jihadists whose bombings and hit-and-run attacks are growing more sophisticated by the month, Mali’s failure to quash a fractured Islamist insurgency has reverberated across West Africa. While support has declined for the 73-year-old Keita, who’s popularly known as IBK, analysts say a lack of strong opposition figures who aren’t part of the political establishment has helped him gain votes.

IBK cast his ballot at about 9 a.m. in the Sebenikoro neighborhood of the capital, Bamako.

“Now it remains for the Malian people to decide,” he told supporters after voting. “I promise all the difficulties we have experienced over the past years are now behind us.”

Despite growing public discontent with his failure to stem corruption, reverse the spread of militancy, and create jobs, almost two-thirds of Malians still approve of Keita’s performance as president, according to a recent poll. At the same time, opposition leader Cisse served long enough in government for voters to be wary of him, said Mamouni Soumano, head of the advocacy organization Malian Center for Dialogue and Democracy.

Islamist Insurgents

Mali fractured in 2012 when Tuareg separatists and Islamist insurgents, benefiting from a massive influx of weapons from Libyan arms stocks, seized the north of the country in the wake of a coup that left the army in tatters. Months after a French military intervention that pushed back some insurgents, IBK won an election on pledges to take back control of the north.

Cisse said he was confident of a win because of voters’ dissatisfaction with IBK’s presidency.

“Over the past five months I have traveled across the country,” he said Sunday inside his home in Bamako. “Malians want change, they want a future, they want hope.”

After 43 percent of registered voters took part in the first round, the runoff’s turnout was slow across the capital.

“People don’t vote because they don’t see the point,” said Bahama Sidibe, 30, who runs his own business in the city. “It’s a great pity, but politics and politicians have disappointed the people.” The Ministry of Territorial Administration has five days to declare provisional results.

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