Winning hearts and minds of northern Tuareg and Arab population would be a big challenge for the next government.
Malians await the outcome of a presidential election run-off they hope will usher in a new era of peace in the West African nation – with international montiors reporting satisfaction with voting conditions.
The process of ballot-counting began on Sunday, as polling stations around the country closed shortly after 6pm local time (1800 GMT) as scheduled.
An electorate of nearly seven million had been asked to choose between former premier Ibrahim Boubacar Keita and ex-finance minister Soumaila Cisse to lead Mali’s recovery, following last year’s coup.
The two candidates have declared themselves confident of victory in the run-off, called after none of the 27 candidates in the first round on July 28 achieved an outright majority.
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The European Union’s election observation mission was to present a report on turnout and voting conditions on Monday.
Al Jazeera’s Ahmed Idris, reporting from the capital Bamako, said that EU observers were happy with the vote, the result of which should be known by the end of the week.
“Logistics problems in the first round were largely solved,” he said. “They were happy, thinking that this will probably run according to plan.”
However, he said bad weather and apathy may have affected turnout.
“There is a fear that the turnout will drop by 10 percent on the first round,” he said. About 50 percent of Mali’s seven million voters participated in the first round of voting.
A network of about 2,000 independent Malian observers issued a statement welcoming the smooth running of the poll, but it noted that fewer voting booths were able to open on time in Bamako and in the southern towns of Koulikoro and Kayes.
Keita is the favourite, having won 39.8 percent of the vote to Cisse’s 19.7 percent in the first round. Cisse’s claims of voter fraud were rejected by the Mali Constitutional Court.
The rivals have faced off before, losing the 2002 presidential election to Amadou Toumani Toure, who was overthrown by a military junta in March last year as he was preparing to end his final term in office.
The election, the first since 2007, was crucial to Mali’s recovery following a military coup last year that led to an armed uprising and a French-led military intervention.
It will unlock more than $4bn of aid promised by international donors and allow France, Mali’s former colonial master, to withdraw most of the 4,500 troops it sent in January to remove al-Qaeda-linked fighters from northern areas.
Lydie Boka, an Africa analyst based in France, told Al Jazeera that the winner would have to deal with serious challenges, mainly reconciling the country’s south with the politically unstable north.
Keita said reconciliation would be his “first priority”.
Widespread poverty has contributed to unrest in the north, with several armed groups vying for control in the vacuum left when the fighters fled.
The region is home predominantly to lighter-skinned Tuareg and Arab populations who accuse the sub-Saharan ethnic groups that live in the more prosperous south of marginalising them.