Malian and French leaders have praised the calm and smooth-running presidential vote in Mali, the first election since a coup last year led to a violent rebellion in the north.
There were no reports of violence in Sunday’s poll despite threats to “strike” polling stations by armed rebels who had occupied northern Mali before being ousted in January by a French-led military intervention.
Local and international observers said there had been a strong turnout in the populous south, although official data have yet to be released, giving rise to optimism that the voting rate would exceed the 36 percent achieved in 2007 elections.
French Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault on Monday declared elections in Mali a “great success” for France.
“Congratulations are in order that the Mali elections went off well,” he said.
Even in the northern regional capital of Kidal, a stronghold of Mali’s Tuareg rebellion and the scene of recent deadly ethnic violence, voters cast their ballots in an atmosphere of calm, although the turnout was thought to have been lower.
“I’m a happy man. We rose to the challenge of voting in Kidal, a zone of insecurity where almost everyone is armed, without incident, without a single shot, and no one could have imagined that a few weeks ago,” said regional governor Adama Kamissoko.
The authorities have until the end of Friday to announce the results, although preliminary findings collated by journalists in polling stations gave a clear early lead to former premier Ibrahim Boubacar Keita, sparking celebrations among his supporters.
The unofficial projections, based on the accounts of reporters watching counts across the country, suggest that 69-year-old Keita, known universally as IBK, could even cause an upset and win the first round vote outright.
Polling ended at 18:00 GMT on Sunday and, as night fell, the tallying of results began.
Officials used electric lamps to check ballot papers for thumb prints, while witnesses sat at wooden school desks jotting down results using mobile phones for light.
Another former prime minister, Modibo Sidibe, and former finance minister Soumaila Cisse were also expected to have won many votes.
Provisional results are expected from the interior ministry on Tuesday. A second round is due to take place on August 11 if no candidate wins more than 50 percent of the vote.
Threats of violence
Voting passed without incident, despite threats ahead of the polls by the Movement for Oneness and Jihad in West Africa (MUJAO), an armed group with links to al-Qaeda.
Mali’s nearly 7 million registered voters had a choice of 27 candidates to lead the troubled nation from a crisis ignited by the mutiny which allowed armed groups to take control of most of the country’s north, before they were dislodged by a French-led military intervention.
The APEM network of 2,100 Malian election observers said most polling stations had opened on time and turnout was “high”, but voting was extended in some locations with delays.
“Really, people have really mobilised because we had 500 voters on the list and I had 296 people who actually voted, and out of these 296, we had 129 women,” Korodjaly Diarra, the president of a polling station in Bamako, said.
After casting his ballot in Bamako, acting president Dioncounda Traore, who was not running in the election, called on all candidates to respect the outcome.
“I am very satisfied with the general conditions in terms of the organisation of the elections,” he said.
Louis Michel, chief of the European Union election observation mission, told reporters after voting ended: “Overall everything went well. There was the enthusiasm among voters”.
A spokesman for EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton welcomed the peaceful conditions in which voting had taken place, while the French President Francois Hollande welcomed the smooth running of the vote.