Voters stayed away in droves from Mali’s run-off presidential election due to fears over security and simple apathy, but the voting process was generally fair despite some incidents, election monitors said.
The vote pitted President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita against opposition leader Soumaila Cisse after an inconclusive first round last month, when Keita won about 41% of the vote.
Official second-round results are not expected for a few days but Keita – known as IBK – is predicted to seal a second term in office.
Cisse, who accused government of cheating in the first round, again alleged fraud and said he won.
“We have a large lead. We do not accept our voice is stolen,” he told a news conference in Bamako.
Threats by jihadist militants forced nearly 500 polling stations – about two percent of the total – to stay closed during Sunday’s run-off, government said. One election official was killed in northern Niafunke, in Timbuktu region.
Security fears severely dampened the turnout, which a civil society group, the Mali Citizen Observation Pool (POCIM) estimated at just over 27% of the eight million registered voters. Turnout is usually about 40% in Malian elections.
Mali is high on the list of Western powers’ security concerns due to militant groups with links to al Qaeda and Islamic State. A successful election is seen as vital in the effort to restore stability as government tackles the resurgent Islamist threat and outbreaks of ethnic strife.
The nation is also a major transit route for illegal migrants trying to reach Europe, a concern in European Union capitals.
As votes were being counted on Monday, Cisse, who heads the Union for the Republic and Democracy (URD) party, called on supporters to challenge Keita’s expected victory.
“We will not accept that a president wins through fraud. And we will show there is fraud,” he said. “This fight is in your hands, dear supporters… Let’s get engaged to save Mali”
Mohamed Dileita, head of an observation mission from the Paris-based OIF, a federation of French-speaking nations, said: “Everyone has more or less accepted the verdict… the vote took place.”
“At the time I speak, at least, it is a calm election, credible. At the moment we do not see any reason why it changes,” Dileita told Radio France Internationale.
Mali’s constitutional court rejected Cisse’s claims of fraud in the first round, held on July 29.
LACK OF ENTHUSIASM
Most shuttered polling stations were in Timbuktu region and conflict-hit central region Mopti, Security Minister Salif Traore told reporters.
In 2013 French troops pushed Islamist militants out of areas in the desert north, but they regrouped and routinely attack civilians, Malian soldiers and UN peacekeepers.
Thousands of troops were deployed across Mali to protect voters after widespread violence in the first round.
POCIM said in its report: “Voters did not mobilise much to fulfil their civic duty.”
“Reasons given relate to security problem and a lack of enthusiasm following publication of first round results.”
POCIM estimated turnout in Bamako at just 26%, while in northern Timbuktu, in the hands of jihadists just five years ago, it was 40%. Turnout in Mopti was 24%.
It reported isolated incidents of ballot stealing and attacks on polling stations, including two torched.
A report by an EU observer mission will be important for the credibility of the election, though it was not clear when it would be published.
On Sunday the EU mission said voting passed peacefully for the most part, although it had no monitors in Mopti, Kidal and Timbuktu regions due to the security threat.