The French press on Sunday night reported that Mali’s presidential election turnout was surprisingly heavy in the capital Bamako. In the northern area the town of Gao had a modest turnout while in Kidal, the Tuareg separatist stronghold, few voters showed up at the polling stations. In Timbuktu anxious voters had to visit several polling stations to find their voter registration cards. Malians were excited to vote, with many waiting in long lines for hours in the extreme temperature. This election was going to bring back stability, and help unify the country that only seven months earlier had been at risk of being overrun by Islamists. There had been a lack of government leadership, services and security since the March 2012 military coup, which was followed by the Islamist takeover of almost two-thirds of Mali.
Sunday’s election was carried out without incident as French, Malian and UN peacekeeping troops stood by at the more than 20,000 polling stations. With 7 million eligible voters, the turnout was better than projected at 40 percent. The ballot counting began late Sunday night, in some cases under lanterns. The final results will not be issued until at least Tuesday. Election observers were not permitted in ballot counting rooms, or at the national tabulation center in Bamako, which raised suspicion of the election process being transparent. Local and media sources indicate that former Prime Minister Ibrahim Boubacar Keïta and Soumaïla Cissé a former finance minister will be the leaders with neither gaining over 50 percent, avoiding a second run-off on Aug. 11.
Lisa Gates the Director of Communications for the International Republican Institute (IRI) reported that they deployed eight teams to Bamako, Koulikoro, Sikasso and Ségou to witness voting at more than 120 polling stations. “The teams observed a process that was largely peaceful, with well-staffed polling stations and a large number of young citizen observers, representing government entities, domestic groups, the Constitutional Court and political parties,” also noting that “Women voters were out in force…with a strong showing at the polls.”
There was a lack of young voters since registration was based on the 2009 census, which excluded thousands of voter’s over18 years old. There was also a paucity of displaced refugee voters, which added to the concerns expressed by Tiébilé Dramé a former foreign minister, who had withdrawn from the campaign. He stated that fairness did not exist, with everyone being able to participate in the voting process, noting up to 350,000 young people and 500,000 refugees would be excluded.
In Bamako observers noted that voters had left the polling stations smiling, showing that their fingers had been dipped in dye after casting their vote. The word “imperfect” permeated into most conversations–but voting also put an end to the months of uncertainty.
Today I received an email from Yeah Samake, mayor of Ouelessebougou who was a leading candidate in some of the polls, letting me know that although the official results were not in, the general trending is to Ibrahim Boubacar Keïta a well-known politician who had lots of money at his disposal. “Money certainly played a role in the outcome and we were outspent on a massive scale,” Mr. Samake noted. “We are not sure if there will be a second round or not, but we do know at this point that I do not stand a chance of moving to the second round.” Mr. Samake had campaigned vigorously to overcome the “old guard” candidates. He was one of the new rising stars, not having served in the previous corrupt governments.
“We will know more details about the official results later tonight or tomorrow. This has been an incredible experience…my ambition [was] to improve the lives of the Malian people, and bring back democratic institutions to the governing process.” Mr. Samake however was optimistic about his country’s future: Mali needs a fresh start—this is Mali’s moment.