BAMAKO (AFP) – Mali went to the polls yesterday, with President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita seeking a second five-year term in the fragile Sahel state beset by deadly ethnic and jihadist violence.
After a campaign marred by violent incidents, 23,000 polling stations opened at 0800 GMT and are scheduled to close at 1800 GMT.
Mr Keita, 73, leads a crowded field of 24 candidates – just one of them a woman – bidding for the presidency which he has held since 2013. He voted in Sebenicoro, in the capital, surrounded by journalists and supporters.
His record on security has been a dominant theme, with opponents, including several former ministers, accusing him of incompetence.
On the campaign trail, Mr Keita – commonly known by his initials IBK – highlighted the achievements of a 2015 peace agreement between the government, government-allied groups and former Tuareg rebels to fight jihadi fighters in the country’s north.
But the main Al-Qaeda-linked jhadist alliance made its presence felt on the final day of campaigning Friday, dubbing the election a “mirage” that would do nothing for the Malian people.
“These elections are nothing other than the pursuit of a mirage and our peoples will reap nothing but illusions, as they are used to doing,” said alliance leader Iyad Ag Ghaly.
Mr Ghaly, the key figure in the jihadists’ operation to take control of much of the north of the country in 2012, leads the Group to Support Islam and Muslims (GSIM), formed from a merger of several militant groups.
The European Union, the African Union, the Economic Community of West African States and the International Organisation of La Francophonie are fielding election observers.
Mr Keita’s challengers are headed by Soumaila Cisse, 68, a former finance and economy minister, who lost by a large margin in the second round of the 2013 election.