Mali's Constitutional Court has rejected allegations of fraud in the country's first round of presidential elections. The ruling paves the way for a second round vote on Sunday.
The Constitutional Court confirmed former Prime Minister Ibrahim Boubacar Keita as the winner of Mali's July 28 first round presidential vote but said that he had failed to win an outright majority.
This means Keita will face off on Sunday against the runner-up, former Finance Minister Soumaila Cisse.
The court confirmed that Keita had won 39.79 percent of the vote, while Cisse had garnered 19.7 percent of the ballots. Cisse and other candidates had accused Keita's campaign of at least a dozen instances of electoral fraud.
"We acknowledge the constitutional court's decision with regret," said Amadou Koita, a spokesman for Cisse's camp. "We believe that our concerns will be taken into account and voting will take place without fraud."
Backing of religious establishment
Keita is considered the frontrunner in Sunday's election, having secured the endorsement of some 20 other candidates as well as influential Muslim leaders. He has run a nationalist campaign, promising to restore Mali's dignity after a March 2012 coup threw the country into civil war.
Cisse has criticized religious leaders, in particular the influential Cherif M'bouille, for publicly backing Keita. Malian electoral law forbids "people of influence" from advancing political candidates.
"As for the religious leaders' backing, that is just part of Malian politics," Mahamane Baby, a former youth leader of Keita's Rally for Mali party, told the DPA news agency. "The other side criticizes us for it, but if they could have got the backing, they would have done it, too."
Rebuilding a war-torn nation
Keita and Cisse faced off once before in the 2002 presidential election, both of them losing to Amadou Toumani Toure. The latter was deposed in the March 2012 military coup, led by Captain Amadou Sanogo.
That coup led to a security vacuum in northern Mali, which allowed ethnic Tuareg rebels to capture the vast region and declare independence. The Tuaregs were ultimately pushed aside by Islamist fighters, who imposed Shariah law and destroyed historic buildings and artifacts in the city of Timbuktu and other towns.
When the Islamists pushed south toward the capital of Bamako, France intervened and pushed the Islamists back into the country's mountainous hinterlands.
Whoever wins Sunday's election will have to negotiate with the Tuaregs, who have currently agreed to a ceasefire with the government.
"Until now, it was the politicians who were responsible for Mali's under-development through corruption," Mamoutou Coulibaly, a retired engineer from Bamako, told DPA. "This year, for the first time, there is a chance for real change."
slk/tm (AP, AFP)