Se­cu­rity con­cerns darken poll runoff

Bangkok Post - - WORLD -

BA­MAKO: Malians were called to the bal­lot box yes­ter­day for a pres­i­den­tial runoff likely to see Ibrahim Boubacar Keita re­turn to of­fice de­spite crit­i­cism of his han­dling of the coun­try’s se­cu­rity cri­sis.

The sec­ond round is a re­run of a 2013 face­off that Mr Keita won by a land­slide over for­mer fi­nance min­is­ter Soumaila Cisse.

This year’s cam­paign saw fierce at­tacks on his fail­ure to dampen a wave of ji­hadist blood­shed and eth­nic vi­o­lence.

But pub­lic en­thu­si­asm has been low and the op­po­si­tion is frac­tured.

Mr Keita, 73, was cred­ited with 41.7% of the July 29 first-round vote while Mr Cisse, 68, picked up 17.78%.

Mr Cisse in­sisted on Fri­day he could turn things around on polling day — warn­ing the sta­tus quo would only bring “chaos” in a “torn na­tion.”

But he failed to unite the op­po­si­tion be­hind him, and first-round chal­lengers have ei­ther backed the pres­i­dent or re­fused to give vot­ing in­struc­tions.

Few Malians at­tended a string of planned marches and protests called for by op­po­si­tion lead­ers in the cap­i­tal Ba­mako ahead of the run-off.

As a re­sult, Mr Keita, com­monly named “IBK” af­ter his ini­tials, is the clear favourite.

A few hun­dred Mr Keita sup­port­ers gath­ered late on Fri­day in the cap­i­tal of Ba­mako for the last meet­ing of the cam­paign.

“He needs to fin­ish what he started,” Si­lan­dou Soumare, a civil ser­vant, said. “With all Malians on board, we can have peace in Mali!”

In 2013, Mr Keita won more than three­quar­ters of the vote.

Vot­ing was open from 0800 to 1800 GMT yes­ter­day. Turnout was low in the first round of vot­ing at around 40%.

The first round saw vi­o­lent at­tacks and threats from armed groups that led to sev­eral hun­dred polling sta­tions be­ing closed, mainly in the law­less cen­tral re­gion.

Se­cu­rity ser­vices said on Sat­ur­day they had dis­rupted a plot to carry out “tar­geted at­tacks” in the cap­i­tal Ba­mako on the eve of the runoff.

Three mem­bers of a “com­mando” cell who were plan­ning at­tacks had been ar­rested, the se­cu­rity ser­vices said in a state­ment, adding that the trio were also sus­pected of in­volve­ment in a rob­bery which left three peo­ple dead in 2016.

Se­cu­rity will be tight­ened for the sec­ond round, an aide in the prime min­is­ter’s of­fice said, with 20% more soldiers on duty.

This means 36,000 Malian mil­i­tary will be de­ployed, 6,000 more than two weeks ear­lier, with a par­tic­u­lar fo­cus on the Mopti re­gion in the cen­tre of the coun­try where vot­ing sta­tions had been closed, Che­ick Ou­mar said.

The three main op­po­si­tion can­di­dates mounted a last-ditch le­gal chal­lenge to the first-round re­sult, al­leg­ing bal­lot-box stuff­ing and other ir­reg­u­lar­i­ties, but their pe­ti­tion was re­jected by the con­sti­tu­tional court.

Mr Cisse’s party said early yes­ter­day that bal­lot pa­pers were al­ready cir­cu­lat­ing, sev­eral hours be­fore polls opened.

Out­side Mali, the hope is that the win­ner will strengthen a 2015 ac­cord that the frag­ile Sa­hel state sees as its foun­da­tion for peace.

The deal brought to­gether the govern­ment, govern­ment-al­lied groups and for­mer Tuareg rebels.

AFP

Protesters march against Malian Pres­i­dent Ibrahim Boubacar Keita in Ba­mako.

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