Mali Counts Ballots With Keita Poised to Win Presidency

Former Malian Prime Minister Ibrahim Boubacar Keita was seen winning a presidential run-off as he pledged to restore state authority after an army coup and French intervention to quash a rebellion in the north.

Keita, 68, took almost 40 percent of the vote in the July 28 first-round ballot and faced former Finance Minister Soumaila Cisse, 63, who got about 20 percent. Keita won the endorsement of at least 22 of the 25 candidates knocked out of the race. His supporters include Dramane Dembele, who came third with 9.6 percent of the vote and broke ranks with his Adema party, which backs Cisse.

About 6.9 million eligible voters in Mali, Africa’s third-largest gold producer, cast ballots yesterday, more than a year after the army staged a coup over a lack of government support in a battle against ethnic-Touareg rebels in the north. When the Touaregs linked up with Islamist militants in an offensive that almost split the nation, former colonial ruler France sent troops to expel them from the main northern cities.

Voting closed at 6 p.m. Final results are expected five days after the vote, according to the Ministry of Territorial Administration.

‘Positive Spirit’

“I think these elections in general have been conducted in a very positive spirit,” Bert Koenders, the Mali representative of the United Nations secretary general, said in an interview today in Bamako, the capital. It’s up to the new president now to discuss with the Malian people a new social contract.’’

Louis Michel, head of the European Union observer mission rejected claims of a lack of transparency by Cisse’s Union for Republic and Democracy party. “Everywhere I have been today, and it has been confirmed by the other observers of the European Union and the other observation mission, there is absolutely nothing to suspect or to doubt about this poll,” he said.

While Cisse focused on economic recovery, Keita campaigned under the slogan, “For the Honor of Mali,” and concentrated on security, territorial integrity and state authority.

He’s also presented “himself as a break from the political class largely responsible for the crisis into which the country has been plunged,” Gilles Yabi, West Africa director of the Brussels-based International Crisis Group, said by phone from Dakar, Senegal.

Experience vs Establishment

Keita, who’s also served as foreign minister and president of the National Assembly, is seen as a “man of experience capable of authority” at the time when Malians seek a revival of a state weakened in the past 10 years, Yabi said.

Cisse, chairman of the Dakar-based West African Monetary and Economic Union from 2004 to 2011, is seen more as “a candidate of the political establishment,” who’s been outside the country for almost a decade, Bruce Whitehouse, a Mali expert and assistant professor of anthropology at Lehigh University in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, said in a phone interview.

International donors insisted that the election, the first since 2007, be held last month before they could start providing as much as $4 billion in aid pledged in May.

Mali’s new president also must tackle corruption in the government and “get the Malian economy going again after being almost frozen in the past 18 months,” Whitehouse said. Mali’s $10.6 billion economy contracted 1.2 percent in 2012, according to the International Monetary Fund.

Gold mining, which hasn’t been affected by the fighting, may help the economy expand 4.8 percent this year, according to the fund.

“I came to vote because I know it’s important for us to decide our future, to decide who will lead us in the right way,” said Bamako-resident Boubacar Diallo after casting his vote in Sabalibougou yesterday. “Even if there was a storm over our heads I would have come.”

(Updates with United Nations representative’s comments in fifth paragraph.)
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