BAMAKO, MALI —
Mali is still waiting on full provisional results from Sunday's run-off election, but that announcement has become a bit of afterthought now that one of the two candidates has formally conceded defeat.
Ibrahim Boubacar Keita may have won Mali's presidential run-off, but it was his rival, Soumaila Cisse, who was the star in the capital, Bamako, on Tuesday.
Cisse had gone to Keita's house Monday night, 24 hours after polls closed, to concede defeat and wish him well. Unofficial results show Keita with a strong lead.
Cisse's move has gone over well with Malians.
Tears of relief
One man on the street said, "I was moved to tears when I heard of what Soumaila had done. He has freed this country from any problems."
Keita's supporters are yet to go cheering in the streets. The reaction in Bamako was more like a collective sigh of relief.
Cisse's supporters crammed into the press conference the candidate held Tuesday to make it official.
Cisse said he is doing this not because he believes this was a clean election, but because he loves his country. "I will do nothing and I will say nothing that could weaken my country or endanger national unity. It is with consideration to the fragile state of our country that my allies and I have decided to avoid opening a phase of contention and instability. I therefore solemnly declare that I accept the results that the government will proclaim."
Cisse said he will not contest the results, despite what he said were serious irregularities, including organizational problems and what he said were incidents of ballot stuffing.
Cisse, a former finance minister and chair of the West African Monetary Union, cracked jokes with journalists Tuesday and said he is not discouraged.
"Another five years is nothing in politics," he said.
This election is meant to be a fresh start for Mali after a year and a half of unprecedented crisis. A Tuareg rebellion that began in January 2012 is still rumbling in the far north. A military coup in March 2012 threw the country into chaos. And the country is now host to a massive U.N. mission to stabilize the north after a nine-month occupation by armed Islamist groups.
Mali had just a few short months to organize the election and there were problems with the voter list and voter cards. However, election observer missions have given both the first and second round votes positive marks.
The first round saw a record turnout of 49 percent, while participation in Sunday's run-off appeared to be slightly lower.
Keita was the favorite heading into the run-off. He had won 39 percent of votes in the first round and was backed by almost all of the other 26 first-round candidates.
The Ministry of Territorial Administration has until Friday to announce full provisional results.