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Mali elections set for run-off amidst violence and insecurity

The 2018 Mali election is set to go into a run-off after the main opposition candidate, Soumaila Cisse, stated that the “incumbent president can’t win in the first round”. The voting process has been marred by armed attacks and other forms of violence, which halted voting in three percent of the country’s polling stations, the government has said.

Malians took to the polls on 29 July in a crucial presidential election. The country has been experiencing deadly ethnic and jihadist violence, which has killed more than 300 civilians this year alone, according to UN figures and an AFP toll, and this election is essentially about voting for peace. In fact, come November 2018, Mali will enter its fourth year in a state of emergency.

Even in the lead up to the elections, and despite the presence of 15 000 UN peacekeepers, 4 500 French troops and a much-heralded five-nation anti-terror G5 Sahel force, violence and insecurity prevailed.

Bursts of Violence

Olivier Salgado, deputy director of communications for the United Nations mission in Mali, known as the Integrated Stabilisation Mission in Mali, or MINUSMA, told Al Jazeera that voting had to be briefly suspended at a polling station in the northern region of Kidal after the firing of approximately 10 mortar shells, although no fatalities were reported.

Read: Mali’s next president: some ‘what ifs’ for the 2018 elections

Elsewhere in the northern Timbuktu region, unidentified gunmen burned polling stations and ballot boxes in the village of Lafia, making voting impossible, according to local authorities.

“Overnight Saturday, armed men arrived at the town hall, where the ballot boxes and electoral material were held,” a local official told AFP news agency. The official added that the boxes were burned after shots were fired into the sky. “One of them said, ‘God does not like elections.'”

Violence also struck the village of Gandamia, further east, where polling stations were destroyed and staff were attacked, the sources said. Four villages could not vote after armed groups “banned state administrators” in the same region, the mayor of the town Bourema Napo told AFP.

Reporting from the capital, Bamako, Al Jazeera’s Mohamed Vall said armed groups linked to Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb had issued threats of violence in recent weeks.

“They warned that they will try to disrupt this election, particularly in those areas in the north.” Vall continued, however, by reporting that voting in Bamako went “smoothly throughout the day” and that “there were also no reports of major incidents in the south”.

Ultimately the Ministry of Territorial Administration figures showed that of the roughly 23 000 polling stations that were meant to open, 4 632 were disrupted, of which 644 were unable to operate.

Election run-off

Tiebele Drame, the campaign director of the main opposition candidate, Soumaila Cisse, told a news conference that ‘‘despite a vote defined by irregularities, the incumbent president can’t win in the first round”.

“We are now able to tell you that there will be a second round for this presidential election, between Soumaila Cisse and Ibrahim Boubacar Keita. We are indeed heading towards a second round. What does this mean? This means that the presidential side’s aim to win in the first round, by knock-out, has failed,” Drame said, as reported by Africa News.

The United Nations is calling for a legal contest of the result should it be required to avoid a political crisis that would only add to the security woes that Mali is already facing.

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