Keita 'well ahead' in presidential race

2013-08-13 07:36
File: AFP

File: AFP

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Bamako - Former prime minister Ibrahim Boubacar Keita pulled ahead in Mali's presidential race Monday, according to electoral and security sources, with two-thirds of votes counted in the watershed ballot.

Keita - widely known as IBK - faced ex-finance minister Soumaila Cisse in Sunday's election, which is expected to provide a fresh start to the troubled west African nation following more than a year of political turmoil, including war and a military coup.

"With nearly two-thirds of the ballots counted, IBK is well ahead," said the source close to Mali's election commission, which helped organise the polls.

Unofficial estimates obtained by AFP from Malian security sources also put Keita, 68, comfortably in the lead.

But Gouagnon Coulibaly, Cisse's campaign manager, said there had been "massive fraud" during the election, without elaborating, and accused the transitional government of being "partisan" in favour of Keita.

The election, the first since 2007, is seen as crucial for unlocking more than $4bn in aid promised by international donors who halted contributions in the wake of last year's coup that ignited an Islamist insurgency and a French military intervention.

The government has until Friday to make public the result of the run-off, called after none of 27 candidates in the first round on July 28 secured an outright majority.

Democratic legitimacy

Voting was hampered by heavy downpours in the capital Bamako, and the European Union's election observation mission gave an estimated turn-out of "around 45%", lower than the 48.9% achieved in the first round but still significantly higher than in previous elections.

The mission said voting had complied with international standards in "99%" of Mali's polling stations.

"Whoever is elected will be elected with democratic legitimacy. That is my belief," mission chief Louis Michel told reporters in Bamako, adding that there had been "a leap forward in terms of democracy in this country".

In Brussels, European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton welcomed what she called "a credible and transparent" election, according to a statement from her office released in French.

She urged all the candidates and parties to accept the outcome and "support the future government in the efforts it must make to build a durable peace and restore national unity," it said.

Ashton pledged EU support for such efforts.

Keita and Cisse, 63, lost out in 2002 to Amadou Toumani Toure, who was overthrown by a military junta in March last year just weeks before the end of his final term in office.

The return to democratic rule will allow France to withdraw most of the 4,500 troops it sent to Mali in January to oust al-Qaeda-linked extremists who had occupied the north in the chaos that followed the coup.

Keita was more than 20 percentage points ahead of his rival in the first round but Cisse had complained about widespread fraud.

Poverty

Mali's Constitutional Court rejected the allegations, however, confirming that Keita had won 39.8%, while Cisse attracted a 19.7% share.

Keita claimed to have the support of 22 of the 25 candidates eliminated in the first round and was backed by Mali's influential religious establishment, while Cisse was endorsed by Adema, Mali's largest political party.

The country of more than 14 million remains the continent's third-largest gold producer, but its $10.6bn economy contracted by 1.2% last year. Widespread poverty has contributed to unrest in the north, with several armed groups vying for control in the vacuum left when the Islamists fled.

The region is home predominantly to lighter-skinned Tuareg and Arab populations who accuse the sub-Saharan ethnic groups that live in the more populous and prosperous south of marginalising them.

A UN peacekeeping mission integrating more than 6 000 African soldiers was charged with ensuring security on Sunday and in the months after the election. By the end of the year it will have grown to 11 200 troops and 1 400 police.

Read more on:    ibrahim boubacar keita  |  mali  |  mali elections 2013  |  west africa

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