Mali has completed its second round of parliamentary elections with many polling stations reporting low turnout blamed on security concerns and voter fatigue.
Sunday’s vote was the fourth and last round since July when the West African nation held presidential elections that ended with no clear winner, leading to a runoff in August. The first round of parliamentary elections was held on November 24.
The vote, seen as a major step towards returning the country to democracy after last year’s coup, was held a day after two UN peacekeepers from Senegal were killed in an explosion targeting a bank they were guarding in the northern rebel bastion of Kidal.
There were no serious incidents during 10 hours of voting but polling stations were reporting turnout as low as 15 percent.
The Citizen’s Centre for Electoral Observation (POCE), an independent Malian organisation which deployed 3,300 observers across the country, said turnout among the country’s electorate of almost seven million was unimpressive.
“The voting took place in good conditions and in a calm climate in the different centres observed. However, the POCE notes that turnout is low in most polling centres,” it said in a statement at midday.
An AFP correspondent waited half an hour at a polling station in the Hamdallaye district of the capital Bamako before seeing the first voter arrive and the centre announced an estimated turnout of just 15 percent minutes before it closed.
In Koulikoro, 50km southwest of Bamako, many residents told AFP they were not intending to participate because they were unimpressed with the candidates and feared Islamist violence.
“When you hear of an attack in Kidal the day before the election, it makes you worry that there might be attacks in other parts of Mali,” a nurse told AFP.
Sultan Ould Badi, a Malian jihadist linked to several armed groups, said Saturday’s attack was in retaliation for African countries’ support of a French-led military operation launched in January against Islamist rebels in northern Mali, which the local population calls “Azawad”.
After casting his ballot in Bamako, President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita, who won the runoff in August, said: “This second round establishes the recovery on a foundation of legitimacy in this country. It will give us more strength, more power to say ‘Mali’ and that’s what Mali needs.”
He added: “What has been done has put us in a position to say Mali everywhere with honour and dignity, without any hang-ups.”
Completion of the parliamentary vote should unlock $3.25bn pledged by donors to rebuild the country and develop its lawless desert north.
Mali was plunged into a political crisis when a group of soldiers led by a US-trained captain seized power, blaming the government for not doing enough to stamp out insurgency in the country’s north.
But armed groups stepped up their military campaign after the coup, seizing even more territory and started to impose Sharia law in areas they controlled.
France sent troops to its former colony in January, driving the Islamist fighters from their strongholds although sporadic attacks have continued. UN peacekeepers have since replaced French troops, but France still maintains minimal troop presence in Mali.