“I think that this is the best election that Malians can remember since 1960,” interim president Dioncounda Traoré said when he went to vote in Bamako at 9.30am.
That did not mean everything ran smoothly. A number of voters in Bamako in the south and Timbuktu in the north told RFI’s reporters that they were unable to find the polling stations.
In a country where election turnout is traditionally low, the authorities, and the French who intervened militarily this year against Islamist rebels, hope a good turnout will boost the government in Bamako’s legitimacy.
The Movement for Unity and Jihad and West Africa (Mujao), one of the armed groups that took control of the north of the country last year, threatened to disrupt the poll but voting started well in key northern cities of Gao and Timbuktu.
- 6.9 million people are registered to vote;
- 85 per cent of potential voters have collected their voters’ registration card;
- Turnout in 2007 election was 37 per cent;
- 27 candidates are standing, one has withdrawn;
- A second round is set for 11 August, if there is no outright winner in Sunday’s first round;
- A record number of observers are present – including from the Ecowas group of west African nations, the African Union and the European Union;
- 6,300 troops of the UN force, Minusma, and 3,200 French troops are in the country.
Former prime minister Ibrahim Boubacar Keîta and former finance minister Soumaïla Cissé are considered the favourites in the race, with another ex-PM, Modibo Sidibé following.
The principal issues in this election:
- Security: French troops , who led the offensive in the north, have begun to pull out with a UN force, Minusma, taking over. After a military coup and a demoralising defeat in the north, the army needs strengthening, all candidates agree.
- Corruption: Graft is endemic at all levels of the state, from low-paid public employees to the well-off who exploit their connections to maintain their priveleges.
- Economy: GDP is 490 euros per capita, 50.4 per cent of Malians live in poverty, Mali is 182 out of 186 on the human development index. Agriculture has suffered from the conflict.
- Youth: Three out of five Malians are under 25-years-old, the hardest hit by the country’s disastrous economic performance. But 300,000 young adults will not be able to vote because the electoral rolls were established in 2009.
- Unity: Tuareg separatists have long demanded an independent homeland, Azawad, in the north but split with Islamist militias when the French-led offensive was under way. Tensions persist between the black Fula and Songhai and the Tuaregs and Arabs.