People in Mali are waiting for the official outcome of a run-off vote to elect their new president.

They were deciding between Prime Minister Ibrahim Boubacar Keita, who received nearly 40 percent of the first-round votes, and his opponent, former Finance Minister Soumaila Cisse.

There is a lot at stake - the election is a major step towards re-establishing democracy and stability in the West African country.

For the Azawad people I don't think there is any enthusiasm, or they are not taking any kind of participation in what’s going in Bamako …. The Azawad people have refused and abstained to go to vote, and they see this elections as a joke.

Akli Sh'kka, a Tuareg activist 

It is also the first election being held since Tuareg separatists led a rebellion against the government in northern Mali in January 2012, that was followed by a group of soldiers staging a coup over the government's handling of the rebellion.

The power vacuum allowed armed groups, some linked to al-Qaeda, to take vast swathes of territory in the north, and by May 2012, groups had merged and declared northern Mali an Islamic state.
Earlier in 2013, France sent in troops to drive back the separatist groups, and in July, UN peacekeepers began replacing French forces.  

After a tumultuous couple of years in Mali, there are many challenges facing the country's new president.

The priority is restoring calm in a country that once had a reputation for political stability. That includes reunifying Mali, as rebels are still thought to be in control of some two-thirds of the country - mainly in the north.

The 2012 Tuareg uprising was fuelled by what was perceived to be unequal treatment of northerners by the government. So the new president will have to address those grievances as well as a shattered economy and widespread poverty that contributed to the unrest.

So, what lies ahead for Malians? Will a new government be able to restore peace and unity in the country? And what will be the role of the army?

To discuss this, Inside Story, with presenter Jane Dutton, is joined by guests: Coumba Bah Traore, the founder of SOS Democratie, a Malian non-profit organisation focusing on civil society activism; Akli Sh'kka, a spokesman for the Tuareg youth movement for justice and equality, and Martin Vogl, a freelance journalist who has covered Mali extensively.

"I think Mali has gone through a period without any coherent government since the coup d'etat ... So there is no doubt that this was an incredible important moment, just to get some sort of political structure back into the country. Mali had been a moderately successful democracy for 20 years before that, so this was really important to get some sort of legitimate president back into place."

Martin Vogl, a freelance journalist 

Editor's note: No official results have yet been released following Sunday's run-off, however, reports say that Mali's presidential election has been won by Ibrahim Boubacar Keita after his rival conceded defeat in the second round runoff.

Source: Al Jazeera