Mali Votes in Runoff Amid Heavy Security to Counter Terrorist Threat

August 12, 2018 Updated: August 12, 2018

BAMAKO—Malians voted in a run-off presidential election on Aug. 12 but observers reported that turnout appeared to be low, with several polling stations coming under attack from armed men and one election official killed.

Thousands of soldiers had been mobilized to provide security following an inconclusive first round last month that was marred by terrorist attacks and opposition allegations of fraud.

But the Mali Citizen Observation Pool (POCIM) said there had been a “persistent climate of tension in some polling centers in Segou, Bamako and several other localities” in the run-off.

Armed men had killed the chairman of the electoral office in Arkodia village in Niafunke, it said. There was no immediate confirmation from the government.

Incumbent President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita, 73, is expected to win a second term even though he has been unable to stem a surge in ethnic and terrorist violence.

Opposition challenger Soumalia Cisse, 68, a former finance minister, said, however, he was confident of victory but he also accused the government camp of trying to stuff ballot boxes.

Mali is high on the list of Western powers’ security concerns and a respectable election is important in the effort to restore stability to the vast West African nation.

Fighters, some linked to al Qaeda and the ISIS terrorist group, have regrouped since French troops pushed them back in 2013 from areas they had seized in the north.

They are now expanding their influence again across the desert north and into the fertile center of the country. Former colonial ruler France and the United States have deployed troops across the region to combat the threat.

Mali is also a major transit route for illegal migrants trying to reach Europe, a concern in EU capitals.

Elections observers giving initial assessments said most polling stations were functioning well. Soldiers ran body checks on voters in the capital Bamako as they waited in line under rainy skies to cast their ballots.

“I voted without problem. I came to fulfill my duty as a citizen,” said Dramane Camara, 31, at a polling station in a school in Bamako. “I expect the new president to solve the problem of the north, which is peace. Because the return of peace means the return of NGOs, investors, so creating jobs.”

However, POCIM said that in polling centers its observers covered, the participation rate was about 8 percent at midday. In Bamako, it was as low as 4.8 percent. Polls closed at 6 p.m. local time. Turnout in the first round was about 42 percent.

Two polling stations were set on fire in Douentza district and electoral agents were threatened, it said.

Voting was halted in Sendegue and Takoutala, two villages in Mopti region after armed men chased away electoral agents.

“In general, there have been problems with a lack of ballot papers, poor quality ink, and a failure to display voters lists in front of the polling stations,” POCIM said in a statement.

The first round on July 29 was marred by armed attacks and other security incidents at about a fifth of polling places.

The government stepped up security for the run-off, putting 6,000 troops on the streets on top of 30,000 already on duty.

The head of the European Union observer mission, Italian politician Cecile Kyenge, told reporters at midday that for the most part, the election appeared to be going ahead peacefully. But it had no observers in Timbuktu, Mopti, and Kidal—areas where violence has been rife.

Fraud Claims

Keita urged people not to respond to any provocation as he voted in Bamako. “I pledge that all the difficulties we faced are now behind us,” he told cheering supporters.

Keita—known as IBK—took 41 percent of the vote in the first round against nearly 18 percent for Cisse.

Results from the first round took five days to emerge and authorities have not said when they expect the run-off result to be announced.

Cisse, who lost against Keita in 2013, said he was confident of victory when he voted in his hometown Niafunke. “We traveled across the whole country and we found an extremely strong desire for change everywhere,” he said.

Cisse also accused the other side of cheating, saying in Bamako they had found people before the vote who already had ballot papers.

Cisse, who blames Keita for the worsening violence and accuses his government of rampant corruption, also alleged fraud in the first round but the constitutional court upheld the result.

By Tiemoko Diallo