Mali presidential race facing run-off

 Soumaila Cisse

Soumaila Cisse

The party of Malian presidential candidate Soumaila Cisse said on Monday that the poll would go to a run-off between Cisse and President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita, a day after a vote that was heavily disrupted by suspected Islamist gunmen.

Cisse’s campaign manager, Tiebele Drame, made the announcement at the party’s headquarters in Bamako, the capital.

Keita’s spokesman said the president was substantially in the lead according to provisional vote count, although he accepted that a run-off was possible.

Spiralling jihadist violence has become a key issue in the campaign, as attacks multiply and the death toll mounts across north and central Mali.

“The law forbids the proclamation of results by anyone except the Ministry of Territorial Administration,” Drame told a news conference.

“However, I can tell you that we are going to a second round between Soumaila Cisse and Ibrahim Boubacar Keita.”

Mahamadou Camara, the spokesman for Keita, said, “according to our tally, IBK has come substantially ahead,” using the popular nickname for the president, taken from his initials.

The exact numbers of voters who were disenfranchised by violence is not known, but they could easily become a flashpoint if the vote is close.

Ministry of Territorial Administration figures showed that, of the roughly 23,000 polling stations that were meant to open, 4,632 were disrupted by “armed attacks or other violence,” of which 644 were unable to operate.

In most of Mali, the vote was peaceful and relatively well organised, with polls opening and closing on time. Most people who were enrolled and turned up were able to vote.

In the mud-walled medieval city of Timbuktu, once a flourishing tourist spot before Islamist militants made it too dangerous, witnesses said gunmen had intimidated voters, seized ballot boxes and in some cases set fire to them in the few polling stations that were attacked outside town.

“They came, they fired their weapons and then they took the ballot boxes away,” witness and Timbuktu resident Insubdar Inaboud, 42, a bus conductor, told Reuters.

Inaboud said he would have voted for Cisse, who hails from the region, if he had had the chance.

Islamist militants took over northern cities like Timbuktu in 2012 on the back of a Tuareg rebellion, imposing Sharia law with harsh penalties like cutting off fingers for smoking, until France intervened a year later to push them back.

The Islamist militants regard democracy as an un-Islamic Western imposition. -Reuters

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