As Mali counts votes after its presidential election Sunday, French Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault has praised the election as a "great success" that should give Mali "every chance" to become a democratic independent nation and ensure its development.
France led a military intervention in Mali after a chaotic 18 months that saw a military coup and Islamist takeover of the north.
VOA correspondent Anne Look says election officials are reporting a record-high voter turnout and describes the mood in the country as happy.
Security was tight and the voting was free of violence, despite threats by Tuareg separatists.
Candidates to become the new president include two former prime ministers -- Ibrahim Boubacar Keita and Modibo Sidibe. The two other top candidates are Soumaila Cisse, who ran the West African Monetary Union, and a relative unknown, Dramane Dembele, who is backed by Mali's largest political party, ADEMA.
They are seeking to replace interim President Dioncounda Traore, who was appointed last year. If no candidate wins a majority, the two top-scoring challengers will head to a runoff on August 11.
"It's giving me a great pleasure, it's a great pleasure, I want a good president for my country. The time has come for a change in Mali. We are in a hurry for that, I'm even in a hurry to get into the bureau to vote."
However, critics of the vote say its legitimacy may suffer because the process has been rushed. They also complain that not enough Malians received the election ID card required to participate in the vote, either because they have been displaced by the violence or were not included in the most recent census.
One former candidate, Tiebile Drame, pulled out of the race in protest because he said the country was not ready for elections.