BAMAKO - Malians went to the polls Sunday, in what’s widely expected to be the first round of Mali’s presidential elections. The atmosphere was calm in the capital but instances of violence were reported in other parts of the country.
Voting has been slow in the Malian capital Bamako. At 8 a.m., there were very few people at the voting stations, in keeping with the low rate of voter card collection by the Bamako electorate. And some were even less lucky.
"I’m Eli Togo. I never got my voter card," says this voter. "I went to look for it, but it was not available. That’s a shame because I would have loved to cast my vote for my candidate. But let the best win and rule with love for our country in his heart."
There also were other reasons why Malians could not vote. By early Sunday afternoon, there were reports of attacks in the north and central regions of the country. Timbuktu, Kidal and Mopti reported violent incidents that prevented some people from casting their votes. At least 10 incidents of violence at polling stations and against election officials had been reported by midafternoon.
These are the areas that have presidential candidate Cheikh Modibo Diarra worried, and not just because of the violence. There are two regions where roughly only half of the residents have been receiving there voting cards.
"For Timbuktu, that means some 175,000 votes," he said. "But when you get to Mopti, you’re talking about 1.1 million voters. If 60 percent of those people can’t vote that means 650,000. Now provided somebody put their hands on those bulletins on behalf of those people… that can bias, you’ll agree with me, heavily the outcome of this election."
On Saturday, the government and the opposition, in the presence of international observers, reached what they called a consensus on the elimination of fictitious voters and a parallel register, which the opposition claimed tilted the election in the government’s favor by a whopping 1.2 million possible votes.
Diarra and his opposition colleagues now hope the contest will be more transparent.
Mali’s vote is crucial for the international community led by France and the United States, which is using the country as a cornerstone for its fight against terrorist groups in the region. Neighbors such as Burkina Faso, Mauritania and Niger, which are also affected by Mali’s instabilities as they have hosted tens of thousands of refugees since the country's conflict began in 2012, are also keenly watching the outcome.
Malians consider it their civic duty to vote but have little confidence in the current system changing. Some analysts have been predicting an upset, and in terms of names this means that either President Ibrahim Boubacar Keïta or his main challenger, Soumaïla Cissé, would not win more than 50 percent of the vote, leading to a second vote on Aug. 12.
Results of Sunday's vote may be known by Wednesday, although a final result is not expected until Friday.