Malians began voting on Sunday in presidential elections, with a tight race between incumbent Ibrahim Keita and his arch-rival Soumaila Cisse, anticipated.
The West African nation is holding the election amid a volatile security situation in the country’s north and centre, where various Islamist and separatist groups stage regular attacks.
Police and the United Nations peacekeeping mission in Mali, could be seen patrolling in Bamako during the early hours of voting on Sunday.
The Ministry of Homeland Security has tasked more than 11,000 security forces with ensuring that voting can take place safely at more than 23,000 polling stations across the country, which spans an area more than twice the size of France.
One woman is among the 24 candidates vying for the highest office, but only Keita and opposition leader Cisse, who lost against Keita five years earlier, stand a chance of winning.
Keita’s popularity has plummeted since his election in 2013, but the 71-year-old has a good chance of winning a second five-year term: No sitting president ever lost an election in the former French colony.
Cisse, a former finance minister and leader of the largest opposition party, Union for the Republic and Democracy, is vying for the presidency for a third time. On each occasion, the 68-year-old lost in the second round.
Roughly eight million of Mali’s 18 million people are registered to vote.
Only a minority of the population is expected to vote in the north and some central parts of the country due to the security situation there.
A low turnout could undermine the credibility of the election.
Provisional results are expected within five days.
If no candidate gains an absolute majority in the first round, a run-off will be held within two weeks.
NAN reports that in a statement on Saturday a spokesman for UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres urged “all political actors in Mali to commit to making this poll a peaceful, free and transparent process, and to resolve any possible disputes … in accordance with the law.”
Also, meeting with opposition candidates to hear their complaints about the electoral list, Mali Prime Minister Soumeylou Maiga urged them to trust in the process on Saturday.
“I think we are all … agreed on the fact that we can’t hold a perfect election,” he said.