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Presidential Campaigns Wrap up in Mali Amid Concerns About Voting Procedures


Campaigning ends Friday in Mali's presidential election. Many predict President Amadou Toumani Toure will win the most votes in Sunday's poll. But there are lingering concerns about some electoral procedures, such as the use of voter lists and the distribution of voter cards, in a nation where most people can not read or write. Kari Barber reports from the Malian capital, Bamako.

At the final campaign rally for popular candidate Ibrahim Boubacar Keita, Keita delivers a speech to thousands of hyped-up supporters in the local Bambara language.

Keita supporter Hamod Aly Bathily says he is disappointed that under the current administration of President Toure, Mali continues to be one of the poorest and least developed countries in the world.

Aly Bathily says he is upset that Mali ranks below countries such as Sierra Leone and Liberia in terms of development. He says he is ready for change.

The majority of Malians may not share his sentiment for political change. Most experts and observers expect President Toure to win re-election in Sunday's national poll.

Even community leaders say they are concerned less about the candidates than about the fairness of electoral procedures. In particular, they question the use of electoral lists and the distribution of electoral cards in a nation where most citizens are illiterate.

Civil society leader Sidibe Diabe says that because only about 20 percent of the population can read and write, many people missed registration.

Diabe says those who cannot read did not understand they needed to write their name on a list to receive a voting card, and now for many it is too late.

Local community leaders also complain that a large majority of those who signed up to vote never received their cards.

The advisor to the Mali government for the 2007 elections, General Wilfried Wesch of Germany, says these problems are being addressed.

"On the voting list where people cannot read their names, they are being helped by the officials: 'Who are you? Show me your piece of identity, that is it, here you are. Show me your card, yes that is it. You can vote now.' They help them," he said.

For those who have not received their cards he says as long as they are on the list and can show some form of identification, they can still vote.

However, most Malians do not have identification cards or papers as the country has no roll for its citizens.

Despite these difficulties, Wesch says he believes the government honestly wants free and fair elections on Sunday.

"I think Mali is on a good way to becoming a democratic country. However, the technical preparations which we are used to in the U.S., which we are used to in Europe, which we are used to in Canada, are not quite up to scratch, I must admit," said Wesch.

Nearly 1,000 international and Malian election observers are expected to be dispersed throughout the vast country on Sunday to observe the voting process.

If none of the eight candidates wins more than 50 percent of the vote, a second round is scheduled to be held on May 13.