Bamako – Supporters of Ibrahim Boubacar Keita partied into the morning in the Malian capital, Bamako, as the state broadcaster announced Keita had taken the lead in the presidential election results.
“He is our man. He loves Mali, not like the others. IBK is the strong leader we need,” said taxi driver Mohamed Diarra (45) using the acronym commonly adopted for Keita.
The news of the strong lead for Keita came as evidence was emerging of a record turnout in the south of the country, against little voting in northern areas still controlled by Tuareg secessionist rebels.
Hundreds of thousands of voters had surged to polling stations yesterday to elect a new president.
Security guard Gnegne Diallo said Keita stood for a break with past poor governance: “He will not steal from Mali. He will insist on rigour and will punish those who are corrupt.”
Keita (68), a former prime minister who has twice lost presidential elections, has run a campaign “for the honour of Mali”, building on the sentiment that the west African country was humiliated by the ease with which Tuareg rebels and Islamist militants swept through Mali last year.
The Islamist advance prompted France to intervene militarily in its former colony in January by sending 4 500 troops, 3 200 of whom are still in Mali alongside a UN peacekeeping force.
Official results are expected to be announced on Friday. Interim President Dioncounda Traore, who as a member of the transitional government is excluded from the race, said in a message to Malians that the vote was an “historic” event.
Twenty-seven candidates were running for a five-year term. Apart from Keita, other frontrunners included: former prime ministers Soumana Sacko and Cheick Modibo Diarra; former finance minister Soumaila Cisse; and the only female candidate, labour union official Haidara Cisse.
French President Francois Hollande welcomed the “smooth progress” of the election, which “confirms Mali’s return to constitutional order, after the victory scored over terrorists and the liberation of the territory”.
“The unprecedented turnout seen yesterday in Mali testifies to Malians’ attachment to democratic values,” he said. “It’s an opportunity and a symbol.”
Keita was the only presidential candidate to not criticise a March 2012 military coup. As such he is considered to be the army’s favourite and to understand Malians’ fatigue of years of bad governance.
Keita came third in the 2002 presidential election, behind Soumaila Cisse and eventual winner Amadou Toumani Toure, and was subsequently appointed speaker of the National Assembly. He lost again to Toure in 2007 and joined other candidates in challenging the outcome, but the court rejected the petitions.
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