The presidential runoff vote between former Prime Minister Ibrahim Boubacar Keita and former Finance Minister Soumaila Cisse is aimed at unlocking some USD 4 billion in aid that has been promised to help Mali recover. The funds, though, are contingent on a democratically elected government being in place.
Keita, known by his initials “IBK,” has run on a campaign of restoring Mali’s honor after a French-led military operation forced the jihadists into the desert earlier this year and paved the way for the Malian military to return to the northern cities it had fled in the wake of the 2012 Tuareg rebellion.
Among the first voters in line at one Bamako polling station was Amara Traore, 65, whose orange boubou—a traditional robe—stood out in the early morning rains Sunday in Bamako.
“I’ve been here since 6:30 a.m. with great joy, despite the rain, to elect a president who can better lead the country,” said Traore, who was backing Keita. “We are tired of this crisis and the insecurity we have been living with.”
Turnout in the first round of voting was nearly 50 percent, though in the northern provincial capital of Kidal where rebel flags still fly, it was a mere 12 percent. Separatist sentiment there remains high, though some within the National Movement for the Liberation of the Azawad had endorsed Keita because of his promise to hold a national dialogue on the crisis there.
Heavy rains kept many polling stations from opening on time Sunday in the capital of Bamako.
“We think that around 10 a.m. or 11 a.m., the voters will come out. There’s a possibility the governor of Bamako will extend the polling stations’ closing hours if he deems it necessary,” said Issaga Kampo, vice president of the National Independent Electoral Commission.
In the first round of voting, technical glitches kept many from casting ballots. Voters showed up at polling stations only to find their names were not on the list. Others encountered difficulties obtaining their voting cards ahead of the July 28 first-round ballot.
The presidential election is the first since the separatist Tuareg rebellion in northern Mali in early 2012 sparked anger within the military and led to a March 2012 coup that overthrew longtime President Amadou Toumani Toure. The chaotic aftermath allowed the separatists, and later Islamic extremists linked to al-Qaida, to grab control of northern Mali, an area the size of France.
Tens of thousands of northerners poured into the southern capital of this mostly moderate Muslim nation to flee the violence and harsh Islamic Shariah law in which extremists meted out punishments like amputations for alleged thefts and whippings to women who went in public without their heads covered. Many displaced northerners are still here, and nearly 200,000 remain in the neighboring countries of Mauritania, Burkina Faso and Niger.
The United Nations refugee agency said initial estimates indicated only about 1,220 of them voted in the first round, though election materials also were being flown in for the second round poll.