Mali reported calm during vote for new president

Malians headed to the polls Sunday, after a tumultuous year of war following a government coup

A man casts his ballot at a polling station on July 28, 2013 in Kidal, northern Mali, during the presidential election. (Kenzo Tribouillard/AFP/Getty Images)

Malians voted peacefully Sunday, despite threats of violence from armed insurgents, in the country’s first election since last year’s military coup and subsequent French intervention that drove out rebels, who had captured most of the country’s north amid a political vacuum. 

The ballot opened Sunday morning under heavy security a day after one of the main armed groups in northern Mali said it would "strike" polling stations

No official announcement on the result is expected until Friday, although results will begin to trickle in from counts across the country over the next 24 hours. 

"I think as far as Malians can remember, this is the best-organized election since 1960," acting president Dioncounda Traore said. 

Armed group the Movement for Oneness and Jihad in West Africa (MUJAO) did not specify what form the attacks would take.

"The polling stations and other voting places for what they are calling the elections will be targeted by mujahideen strikes," MUJAO said in a statement carried by the Mauritanian ANI news agency.

The group warned Malian Muslims against participating in the election, saying that they should "stay away from the polls."

INFOGRAPHIC: What's at stake in Mali's election

In a polling station at a school in the capital, Bamako, hundreds of voters waited for more than an hour to cast their ballots.

"We are tired of bad governance," said machine operator Kalifa Traore, 56. "I'd urge the candidates to accept the results of our vote."

Al Jazeera's Nazanine Moshiri, reporting from Bamako, said: "There has been a bit of confusion about the electoral lists, but at the same time officials are telling me that 80 percent of people have actually managed to get their electoral cards, which will enable them to cast their votes."

At the same time, according to Al Jazeera sources, some people in Timbuktu and Gao have not turned up at all. They have opened their shops and are not voting, our correspondent said.

MORE: Mali votes: View from the streets

Millions will exercise their right to choose the country’s president from among 27 candidates in the country, which was once one of West Africa’s most stable democracies.

On the eve of the election Traore urged Malians in a televised address to ensure a massive turnout in a country where the participation rate is usually around 40 percent. Traore himself is not a candidate.

Haidara Aichata Cisse is the only woman in the race, running against past prime ministers Ibrahim Boubacar Keita, Cheick Modibo Diarra, Modibo Sidibe and Soumana Sacko.

Credibility issues

Although the three-week campaign ended on Friday without major incident, it played out in the shadow of violence in the north that has cast doubt over Mali's readiness to deliver a safe and credible election.

Critics at home and abroad have argued that Mali, under pressure from the international community,rushed to the polls and risked a botched election that could do more harm than good.

There were questions as to how the hundreds of thousands of Malians, who have been living in refugee camps in neighboring countries such as Mauritania and Burkina Faso after they fled the war, would participate in the election. Much of the worry ahead of the polls had been focused on the northern city of Kidal, occupied for five months by Tuareg separatists until a ceasefire accord allowed the Malian army earlier this month to provide security.

Gunmen thought to be from the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA) also kidnapped five polling officials 200km (124 miles) north of Kidal.

The ballot will be the first since the military mutiny in March last year that toppled democratically elected president Amadou Toumani Toure. The ensuing confusion helped the MNLA, MUJAO and other groups allied to al Qaeda to seize northern Mali.

A U.N. peacekeeping mission integrating more than 6,000 African soldiers into its ranks is charged with ensuring security on Sunday and in the months after the election. By the end of the year it will have grown to 11,200 troops and 1,400 police.

The deployment allows France to start withdrawing most of the 4,500 troops it sent to Mali in January to stop the fighters from advancing towards Bamako from their northern strongholds.

Al Jazeera and wire services

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