Malians voted yesterday in a watershed presidential run-off election expected to usher in a new dawn of peace and stability in the conflict-scarred nation.
Almost 7 million voters have a choice between former Malian prime minister Ibrahim Boubacar Keita and ex-Malian minister of finance Soumaila Cisse to lead the country’s recovery following a military coup that ignited an Islamist insurgency and a French-led military intervention.
Both candidates declared themselves confident of victory in the run-off, called after none of the 27 candidates in the first round on July 28 achieved an outright majority.
The election, the first since 2007, is crucial for unlocking more than US$4 billion in aid promised after international donors halted contributions in the wake of last year’s coup.
Most polling stations opened on time at 8am, but several visited by foreign reporters in Bamako were almost deserted after heavy rain fell on the capital.
The days leading up to the vote have been largely uneventful, with cities and towns deserted as Malians — more than 90 percent of whom are Muslim — stayed at home to celebrate the Eid al-Fitr festival marking the end of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.
The rivals have faced off before, losing the 2002 election to former Malian president Amadou Toumani Toure, who was overthrown by a military junta in March last year as he was preparing to end his final term in office.
The return to democratic rule will allow France to withdraw most of the 4,500 troops it sent to Mali in January to oust Islamist extremists who had occupied the north in the chaos that followed the coup, imposing a brutal regime of Shariah Islamic law characterized by executions and amputations.
Keita, who is considered the favorite, was more than 20 percentage points ahead of his rival in the first round, but Cisse has remained optimistic.
“I am confident because it is not about adding to the votes from the first round. There will be new votes, it is a new election. Everything restarts from zero,” the 63-year-old told reporters.
Cisse had complained about widespread fraud in the first round, when more than 400,000 ballots from a turnout of about 3.5 million were declared spoiled.
However, the Malian Constitutional Court rejected the allegations, confirming that Keita, 68, had won 39.8 percent, while Cisse attracted a 19.7 percent share.
Keita has urged voters to hand him a “clear and clean” majority in the runoff to ensure that victory cannot be “stolen.”
“Given the results from the first round, there is a good chance that they would be confirmed in the second,” he said on Friday. “My first priority would be the reconciliation of the country... After the trauma that it has suffered, a new start is needed.”
Keita claims to have the support of most of the candidates eliminated in the first round and is backed by Mali’s influential religious establishment, while Cisse has been endorsed by Adema, Mali’s largest political party.
A UN peacekeeping mission integrating more than 6,000 African soldiers was charged with ensuring security yesterday 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.
FOX HUNT: To suppress dissent, Chinese living abroad that Xi Jinping sees as threats are told to either return to China or commit suicide, Christopher Wray said Chinese agents have been pursuing hundreds of Chinese nationals living in the US in an effort to force their return, as part of a global campaign against the country’s diaspora, known as Operation Fox Hunt, FBI Director Christopher Wray said on Tuesday. In a speech about the security threat posed by China, during which he said Beijing’s counterintelligence work was the “greatest long-term threat to our nation’s information and intellectual property, and to our economic vitality,” Wray gave the example of one Fox Hunt target who was given a choice of going back to China or killing themselves. Fox Hunt was launched
‘WOULD NOT COMPLY’: The company’s user data are kept in Singapore and it would not turn the data over to Beijing even if asked, TikTok chief executive Kevin Mayer said Social media app TikTok has distanced itself from Beijing after India banned 59 Chinese apps in the country, according to a correspondence seen by Reuters. In a letter to the Indian government dated on Sunday last week and seen by Reuters on Friday, TikTok chief executive Kevin Mayer said the Chinese government has never requested user data, nor would the company turn it over if asked. TikTok, which is not available in China, is owned by China’s ByteDance, but has sought to distance itself from its Chinese roots to appeal to a global audience. Along with 58 other Chinese apps, including Tencent
INTERNET CURBS: People are rushing to erase their digital footprints after police given powers over online activity, although it might take years for the full effect to be felt At midnight on Tuesday, the Great Firewall of China, the vast apparatus that limits the country’s Internet, appeared to descend on Hong Kong. Unveiling expanded police powers as part of contentious new national security legislation, the Hong Kong government enabled police to censor online speech, and force Internet service providers to hand over user information and shut down platforms. Many residents, already anxious since the legislation took effect last week, rushed to erase their digital footprint of any signs of dissent or support for the past year of protests. Hong Kong Legislator Charles Mok (莫乃光), a pro-democracy member of the Legislative
‘FIGHT FOR FREEDOM’: Hong Kongers will never bow to Beijing, the advocate said, while the US’ envoy to the territory called China’s new security law a ‘tragedy’ The world must stand in solidarity with Hong Kongers after Beijing imposed sweeping national security legislation on the semi-autonomous territory, advocate Joshua Wong (黃之鋒) said yesterday, vowing to continue campaigning for democracy. Wong, one of the territory’s most prominent young advocates and a figure loathed by Beijing, was speaking outside a court where he and fellow advocates are being prosecuted for involvement in last year’s pro-democracy protests. China last week enacted sweeping security legislation for the restless territory, banning acts of subversion, secession, terrorism and collusion with foreign forces. The legislation has sent a wave of fear through the territory, and criminalized dissenting