BAMAKO — Campaigning for Mali's 27 presidential candidates has ended ahead of Sunday's election. The vote is seen as the first step toward getting Mali back on its feet after a disastrous 18-month crisis that saw a military coup in the south and an Islamist takeover of the north.
Caravans of young people hanging out the windows of beat-up vans, riding motos and even a few galloping by on horseback headed to the Friday rallies of two of the frontrunners in Mali's presidential race - Ibrahim Boubacar Keita and Dramane Dembele.
It was a subdued end to what has been a subdued campaign. Voter participation in Mali is notoriously low even by regional standards, never topping more than 40 percent.
Several thousand gathered on Bamako's Avenue of Mali for their candidate, Ibrahim Boubacar Keita, a long-time opponent of the previous regime, which many blame for the current crisis.
Keita, more commonly known by his initials IBK, gave a speech characteristic of his "get tough" reputation. "Attention, Malians, what happened in this country will never happen again. No one will ever take advantage of Mali again. We are going to train our army well and make it strong. And anyone who wants to come attack Mali will have to face them. This is what I will do as president." said Keita.
IBK supporter Dieynabou Coulibaly danced as she arrived at the rally. "It's the way he works that I like. He is honest and sincere. He hates betrayal and he has principles," she said.
Across town at the Modibe Keita Stadium, supporters of Mali's largest political party, ADEMA, filled the stands, many dressed in the party colors, red and white.
The ADEMA candidate, Dramane Dembele, is a relative unknown, a geologist with little government experience.
Supporter Bala Kante said ADEMA ran this country before the now-ousted president Amadou Toumani Toure and it is time to go back to that.
"I support Dembele because he is the candidate of ADEMA. He has been youth leader in the party, and he has the support of women and young people. There are lot of problems left to solve in this country. We need a change, a change in ideology," he said.
Other top candidates include Soumaila Cisse and Modibo Sidibe, both long-time political players and former government ministers.
Cisse held his final rally 60 km outside Bamako in Koulikoro, while Sidibe wrapped up his campaign in the southeast in Sikasso, the region with the most registered voters.
If no candidate wins a clear majority, the two top-scoring candidates will head to a run-off August 11.