Coronavirus and insurgency don’t stop Mali election

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Mali held a long-delayed parliamentary election on Sunday despite an insurgency in the central and northern regions, concerns about coronavirus and the recent kidnapping of the main opposition leader.

The election, originally scheduled for 2018, was postponed twice because of violence in areas where government struggles to suppress jihadist groups with links to al Qaeda and Islamic State.

The coronavirus pandemic posed a further threat to the vote. Authorities insisted it go ahead and promised to enforce additional hygiene measures to protect Mali’s 7.6 million voters.

“Government will do everything to make sure this is the case,” President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita said in the run-up to the election.

Mali confirmed 20 cases of coronavirus and its first death from the disease on Sunday.

Polls opened on Sunday at 0800 and turnout in Bamako appeared low, a Reuters witness said.

There was no queue at one polling station, which allowed voters to cast their ballot while keeping the recommended distance from each other. Handwashing facilities were meant to be available, but kits arrived too late for early voters.

“I voted without a problem, but the hygiene kit against coronavirus wasn’t there,” said 30-year-old driver Ibrahim Konare. “The priority for the new parliament should be the fight against insecurity and the eradication of coronavirus.”

It was not clear how voting was going in central and northern Mali, effectively lawless and used by the jihadists as a base for attacks in Mali and into neighbouring Niger and Burkina Faso.

Mali’s main opposition leader Soumaila Cisse was ambushed last week on the campaign trail in Timbuktu region. Attackers killed Cisse’s bodyguard and took him and six of his delegation hostage. They have not been seen since.

The election will select 147 lawmakers for the national assembly, without a mandate since 2018 because of electoral delays.

Polling stations close at 1800 GMT with results due in the coming days. A second round is scheduled for April 19 in constituencies where no candidate wins a majority.