Islamist Violence Simmers in Mali as Runoff Vote Count Begins

(Bloomberg) -- Electoral officials in Mali began counting ballots from Sunday’s presidential runoff election that drew little interest from voters and observers declared mainly peaceful, despite incidents of violence in areas where the United Nations is battling Islamist militants.

Mali has emerged as the front line in a regional war against jihadists, whose bombings and hit-and-run attacks have grown increasingly more sophisticated, and its failure to quash a their fractured insurgency has reverberated across West Africa. While the ongoing violence has eroded support for 73-year-old President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita, an absence of a strong opponent and voter apathy is likely to help him secure a second five-year term.

Keita, popularly known as IBK, won 41 percent support in the first round on July 29, and his main opponent Soumaila Cisse, 68, who secured 18 percent backing, failed to persuade a fractured opposition to unite behind him. Forty-three percent of registered voters took part in the first round, and a group of citizen observers known as Pocim estimated participation averaged just 22 percent at about 1,500 of the approximately 23,000 polling stations that it monitored in the second.

Islamist Violence Simmers in Mali as Runoff Vote Count Begins

“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.”

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, Keita won an election on pledges to take back control of the north.

“I promise all the difficulties we have experienced over the past years are now behind us,” Keita told supporters after casting in the Sebenikoro neighborhood of the capital, Bamako.

About 490 polling stations never opened, according to Salif Traore, the internal security and civil protection minister. About 440 of those were in the Mopti region in central Mali, which has been among the hardest hit by the violence.

In Timbuktu, another central region, one election worker was abducted and killed while unidentified people stole ballot boxes at another station, according to Boubacar Thera, a spokesman for a regional observer group. Some voting stations remained closed after armed men threatened voters, Thera said.

The European Union posted monitors at 300 polling stations and found they were staffed, had sufficient electoral material and ballot boxes were correctly sealed, Cecile Kyenge, head of its observer mission, told reporters.

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

“Malians want change, they want a future, they want hope,” he said Sunday at his home in Bamako.

The Ministry of Territorial Administration has five days to declare provisional results.

©2018 Bloomberg L.P.