Expectations of Mali’s presidential election were so low that everyone was pleasantly surprised when the vote passed peacefully with perhaps half of eligible voters participating. With security tight at polling booths Sunday, there were no violent attacks despite threats from an Al Qaeda-linked militia, the Movement for Unity and Jihad in West Africa. And, with the country’s peace and stability at stake, the 50% turnout estimated by European Union observers was higher than past election turnouts of around 40%. Turnout in the country’s troubled north, however, was lower. Former Prime Minister Ibrahim Boubacar Keita is leading the vote count, according to Malian state-owned television. If he fails to gain more than 50% of the vote, a runoff will be held next month.
France — which sent in troops to oust violent Islamist militias after they seized half of the country last year — congratulated Mali on a successful election.
No one expected the election to be perfect. Saying the poll wouldn’t be perfect “is a little like saying that a Metallica concert won’t be quiet,” analyst Bruce Whitehouse wrote in his “Bridges from Bamako” blog.
Despite recent calls by the International Crisis Group to delay the election so that it could be better organized, Malian officials pressed ahead, hoping that the vote would be credible enough to return the country to peace, democracy and stability. Two days before the vote, the head of the EU observer mission, Louis Michel, declared that the conditions required for a credible vote had been met.