Vote Counting Underway in Mali Presidential Run off

Malians are voting Sunday in a presidential run-off election that will decide who will lead the country out of 18 months of unprecedented conflict and political crisis. In Bamako, voters waited in short lines outside a polling station in the city?s Niamakoro neighborhood amid overcast skies and a misty morning rain. Voter Amadou Sanga was hopeful about the poll. ?I am here for the future of my country.

This election will decide what comes next, whether we can get out of what has been a major crisis. We can?t make the same mistakes again. We are here to choose a leader who can get us out of this situation once and for all.? A lot is riding on this election. It will unlock $4 billion in international aid already pledged to rebuild the country and mark an end to the political limbo that has followed a March 2012 military coup.

Mali is now host to a massive U.N. mission aimed at stabilizing the north, which was occupied by rebel and Islamist armed groups for nine months. A record 50 percent of the country?s seven million registered voters turned out for presidential election?s the first round and voters say they hope to see an even higher turnout in the run-off. As voter Boubacar Sidibe put it, ?People need to come out in large numbers and vote so that we can have peace.? Voters say there are clear differences between the two men vying for the presidency. Soumaila Cisse is a technocrat from Timbuktu. His campaign has focused on economic recovery. Ibrahim Boubacar Keita is a one-time prime minister and former National Assembly president from the south. He is known for his ?say it like it is? demeanor and fierce nationalism. Keita appears to be the frontrunner.

He led the first round with 39 percent of ballots and almost all of the other 26 first-round candidates are backing him in the run-off. The Constitutional Court threw out allegations by Cisse and other candidates that there was vote rigging in the first round. French, Malian and U.N. troops are providing security for the vote nationwide. No incidents were reported during the first round of voting July 28. Voters in the northern town of Gao said voting was calm Sunday.

A local journalist in the far northern rebel stronghold of Kidal told VOA that voter turnout as of mid- day appeared higher than the dismally low participation seen there during the first round. In Kidal, he election is taking place thanks to a temporary ceasefire deal signed in mid- June between Tuareg separatist group, the MNLA, and Mali?s interim government. However, tensions remain high and there were a few incidents of violence in the run-up to the first round. Negotiating with the MNLA will be one of the top items on the new president?s agenda. Election authorities have until Friday to announce results from Sunday?s run-off.

Amadou Maiga contributed to this report.

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