Election officials in Mali are counting votes after a parliamentary election that saw low turnout and some reports of irregularities.
Sunday's vote is meant to be the last step in restoring democracy in Mali, where soldiers toppled the president last year and al-Qaida-linked militants took control of the north.
Abdel Fatau Musah, director for external relations for the Economic Community of West African States, told VOA that while there were some irregularities, observers did not report major incidents. However, he also noted that the election was dampened by what he called an "abysmal" turnout.
"You cannot put a premium on the importance of what is happening today in Mali on the stability of the country and also peace and security as a whole, not to talk about international peace and security. Simply because first we are talking about the psychological effects. This is a country that was rocked by a terrorist attacks and with a coup d'état," explained Musah.
Officials said Tuareg separatists prevented voters from casting ballots in a few places, while armed men stole some ballot boxes near the northern town of Timbuktu.
About 6.5 million Malians were eligible to vote Sunday, with more than 1,000 candidates vying for 147 seats in the new national assembly. Any races that are not decided in the initial round will go to a runoff, to be held December 15.
Mali's president, Ibrahim Boubacar Keita, who himself was elected in a peaceful vote in August, sounded hopeful earlier Sunday after casting his own ballot.
"I hope that these elections will take place peacefully and transparently and that at the end we will have a national assembly of men and women who will achieve the project that the people of Mali have invested in. This is what I hope most of all and that our country will find its friendliness and its harmony," said Keita.
A Tamacheq man has his finger dyed with ink after casting his ballot in Mali's parliamentary elections in Gao, Nov. 24, 2013.
Women walk around a polling station waiting for it to close in Mali's parliamentary elections in Gao, Nov. 24, 2013.
Election volunteers count ballots in Mali's parliamentary elections in Gao, Nov. 24, 2013.
Soldiers patrol the streets of Gao, Northern Mali, Nov. 24, 2013.
A boy changes a light fixture at a polling station during Mali's parliamentary elections in Gao, Nov. 24, 2013.
A statue of a hippopotamus is covered with election posters at a traffic circle in Bamako, Mali, Nov. 19, 2013.