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Malians vote in election seen as democratic model for Africa

Malians vote in election seen as democratic model for Africa

A decade and a half after Mali's dictator was toppled in a coup, Malians headed to the polls Sunday in an election expected to be its fourth free and democratic vote for president in a region often marred by vote-rigging and election day violence.
Despite grinding poverty, Mali has managed to be a success story for democracy in Africa, where Nigeria's recent election was marked by ballot box-stuffing, vote rigging and periodic eruptions of violence.
As Malians lined up early Sunday at over 20,000 polling stations, many predicted an easy re-election victory for President Amadou Toumani Toure, who is standing against seven other candidates for a second five-year term.
"I've been here since before the polls opened to make sure my candidate _ Toure _ wins," said an elderly woman, Kadiadou Diarrasso, who waited for her turn to vote. In Mali's illiteracy-proof voting system, that involves dipping her index finger in blue ink and imprinting the space next to the image of her chosen candidate on the ballot paper.
Yet even as Malians take pride in their reputation as an African country that has managed to embrace democracy despite poverty and ethnic divisions, voter turnout appeared to be low in the capital and some of those that lined up to vote complained of widespread apathy.
"Malians are not interested in politics," said Amadou Kone, while waiting to vote.
"Our people are just not coming out," said Idrissa Dembele, a delegate of the National Independent Commission, charged with monitoring the election. He pointed to the Bamako neighborhood of Faladie, where out of 496 registered voters only 158 had bothered to pick up their voter cards by election day.
Yet in towns in Mali's interior, the turnout was significant and as many as 90 percent of voter cards had been retrieved in some localities. Election officials said that in Bamako only 39 percent of voter cards had been retrieved compared with around 60 percent in the interior.
Though Toure is expected to win, some say the president _ who has headed the country since 2002 _ has not done enough to improve the lives of those struggling to eke out a living in a country where 60 percent of the population of 12 million lives below the poverty line.
"I'm here to vote so that another Mali may be possible," said 18-year-old Alima Sanogo, a university student who was lining up to cast her ballot for Tiebil Drame, a schoolteacher and one of Toure's former Cabinet members whose slogan promises change for Mali.
Mali _ which stretches from the dunes of the Sahara Desert in the north to the cotton fields of the temperate south _ slid into dictatorship after gaining independence from France in 1960, but a 1991 coup led to elections the following year. Mali's then-president stepped down after the maximum two-term limit and Toure was elected in a peaceful 2002 vote.
Of the seven candidates running in the opposition, the president of the National Assembly, Ibrahim Boubacar Keita, is widely considered Toure's most serious rival.
Toure, 59, is backed by a coalition of 43 political parties under the banner of the Alliance for Democracy and Progress, or ADP.
Mali has 6.9 million registered voters and candidates need to win 51 percent of the vote to avoid a runoff. Polls opened at 8 a.m. (0800 GMT) and are expected to close at 6 p.m. (1800 GMT). Election results could take days to be released.


Updated : 2021-05-15 07:14 GMT+08:00