BAMAKO – On Sunday, ‘Malian voters’ were due to decide on whether or not to give President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita the second term, despite widespread ethnic and jihadist violence that has dramatically worsened since he came to power five years ago.
The European Union observer mission urged the government on Saturday to publish a list of places that will be unable to vote, so as to quell suspicions by candidates of “fictitious polling stations”. Two dozen other candidates are contesting the presidency in a largely Saharan desert nation that has been fractured by a Tuareg rebellion and Islamist militancy across its north and central zones since the last poll in 2013. Keita, aged 73, in a rival rally along the leafy banks of Niger River in the capital Bamako, suggested that peace had already been restored, saying he had toured all over Mali and “nowhere did I feel afraid.”
Addressing supporters at a final rally late on Friday, Keita’s main rival Soumaila Cisse, 68 – seen as having the strongest chance of ousting him – pledged a fresh start. “These are polling stations in which we know insecurity … won’t make the vote possible there,” EU mission head Cecile Kyenge told journalists on Saturday. “People want change. This government was an accident that we are going to forget”.
For the past three years, jihadist attacks have tripled and violent deaths have doubled, according to civil society website Malilink. Islamists have spread from the north to the center and even targeted Bamako – as in 2015 when gunmen killed 20 people in a raid on the Radisson Blu hotel – as well as Mali’s neighbors.