A presidential campaign has opened in Mali for an election scheduled for April 29. President Amadou Toumani Toure, 58 is the favorite, but several challengers are trying to force a second-round runoff. VOA's Nico Colombant has more from our regional bureau in Dakar, with additional reporting by Agathe Diama in Bamako.
At a campaign rally in Bamako, President Toure, known to most Malians by his initials "A.T.T.", says he needs the people's confidence to be able to deliver promises of what he calls economic takeoff.
Mr. Toure, a former coup leader in the early 1990s who organized elections then, has governed with an elected mandate since 2002 on the basis of consensus politics, or what pundits have called "A.T.T.-cracy".
One of seven challengers, Tiebile Drame, says he is tired of consensus.
Drame says A.T.T.'s style of government has put Malian politics to sleep. He says it is dangerous for democracy.
Drame and several other candidates have formed an alliance, even though they are running separately, hoping to prevent President Toure from winning more than 50 percent of votes in the first round and force a runoff.
Another member of the alliance, known as the Front for Democracy and the Republic, is the current head of the national assembly, popular politician, and main contender, Ibrahim Boubacar Keita.
One woman is running, independent candidate Sidibe Aminata Diallo.
A lawmaker, Ascofare Ouelamatou Tamboura, says even though she has been discreet so far, she is very courageous.
Tamboura says mentalities are not ready in Mali for a woman president, because of the weight of tradition. But she says Diallo's candidacy is a start, a groundbreaking act of courage, and inspiration for all women politicians.
New rules requiring a $20,000 downpayment and sponsorship of a number of elected officials reduced the number of candidates from previous elections.
Opposition parties also complain that the president controls state media, and that many journalists are being corrupted in line with his campaign.
But one Bamako resident, tells VOA she believes Mali's democracy has gone a long way.
She says it is the fourth open election Mali is having. She says it is the election of maturity. On the fourth try, she says, people can walk and people can talk.
She says, of course, many things need to be improved, but that as long as the process remains peaceful, there will be room for more improvement.