Mali’s Presidential Runoff Dogged By Fears Of Deadly Violence As Polls Open

Incumbent President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita failed to reach the 50 percent threshold in the first round vote in the West African state. Eighteen candidates have said they will not accept results marred by irregularities.

People wait outside Mali polling station (Reuters/L. Gnago)
Malian authorities hope their additional security measures will help to boost voter turnout
mm/ng (AFP, Reuters)

bY CRIMSON TAZVINZWA ~~WEST AFRICA//MALI Authorities have beefed-up security across the country ahead of Mali’s presidential second-round vote after attacks during last month’s initial round kept many voters away. Despite the situation, incumbent Ibrahim Boubacar Keita is expected to win.

Voter casts her ballot (Reuters/L. Gnago)

Malians headed back to the polls amid tight security on Sunday, in a run-off election that pitted President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita against the country’s main opposition leader, Soumaila Cisse.

Authorities deployed a 42,000-strong security force, made up of the police and military, to try and prevent a repeat of the chaotic violence by armed groups that marred last month’s first round vote.

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Photo: Donald Sparks/AFRICOM

Election officials were concerned that fresh attacks would dampen turnout for the runoff, after several incidents forced about a fifth of polling stations to close during the July 29th preliminary poll — mostly in the lawless central region.

Just 40 percent of voters took part in the first round, which saw Keita win 41 percent support against nearly 18 percent for Cisse, a former finance minister.

“We traveled the whole country and we noticed everywhere a strong desire for change,” said Cisse. “Malians want change, they want another future and hope. This is why I am happy to be here. I am happy because I am confident in the vote, which takes place today.”

Read more: Malians want stability and security, former minister says

Keita wins new supporters

Despite Cisse vowing to win over voters in time for Sunday’s runoff, analysts said he has failed to unite the opposition behind him, after the most popular first-round challengers backed Keita.

The president is seeking a second term after beating Cisse in a 2013 election.

But the 73-year-old Keita faces severe criticism over his failure to dampen a wave of jihadist bloodshed and ethnic violence.

The main opposition has also accused his government of rampant corruption and voting fraud in July.

Militants regroup

Concerns are mounting that militants — including those linked to al-Qaida and the Islamic State (IS) armed group — have regrouped since a French intervention in 2013, and are now expanding their influence across the desert north and into the fertile center.

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Mali Military Enters Town of Timbuktu//AP

More than 930 militant attacks were recorded in the first half of 2018 by the civil society website Malilink, almost double that for the previous year, and triple 2015’s figures.

Read more: Attack on Sahel counterterror force puts jihadists in focus

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