Figures for Sunday's ballot announced on live television showed former prime minister Ibrahim Boubacar Keita in the lead with 39.2% of the vote, ahead of main rival Soumaila Cisse with 19.4%. But Cisse accused the government of allowing widespread fraud after the interior ministry said more than 400,000 ballot papers had been spoiled out of some 3.5 million votes cast. "The high turnout on July 28 should not distract from the unpreparedness, poor organisation and fraud that have characterised the first round of the presidential election," Cisse told a media conference in Bamako.
The 63-year-old said he was "astonished" by the high number of spoiled ballots and would be asking Mali's constitutional court to investigate. "In preparation for the second round, I urge the government of Mali and its partners to take strict measures to ensure a clean and clear expression of the will of the people," he added. Cisse, formerly finance minister and chairman of the Commission of the West African Economic and Monetary Union, said "thousands, or even tens of thousands" of Malians were unable to find their names on voting lists, or even the correct polling station.
His comments came after his party said Wednesday the election had been marred by people submitting multiple votes. A credible election is seen as key to Mali's recovery after a coup in March last year overthrew Amadou Toumani Toure, plunging one of the region's most stable democracies into political crisis and leading to an Islamist insurgency. As hardline Al-Qaeda allies took control of the country's vast desert north, and threatened to extend their often violent rule, former colonial power France launched a military offensive in January to drive out the Islamist fighters.
Four former prime ministers and an array of political heavyweights — but just one woman — featured in a list of 27 presidential hopefuls, although analysts always characterised the election as a two-horse race between Keita, 68, and Cisse. Dramane Dembele, the candidate for Mali's largest political party, the Alliance for Democracy in Mali (Adema), polled just 9.6%, taking third place.
Iba N'Diaye, interim president of Adema, vowed to support Cisse. "Adema is supporting the candidate Soumaila Cisse in the second round and we will fight the campaign at his side," N'Diaye told AFP. Analysts believe the votes of fourth placed candidate Modibo Sidibe are also likely to be transferred to Cisse in the run-off, making a total of 14.5% when combined with Adema's support. This means the backing of the also-rans — who garnered more than 25% between them — will be crucial.
Acting president Dioncounda Traore and UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon have acknowledged that the vote may be "imperfect" in a country with 500,000 citizens displaced by conflict, but have urged Malians to respect the outcome. Critics have argued that Mali, under pressure from the international community, rushed to the polls and risked a botched election that could do more harm than good.
But the country has been praised by the international community for running a transparent, credible and peaceful election. The official turnout was recorded at 51.5%, eclipsing Mali's previous best of 38%. Despite heavy security during voting amid fears Al-Qaeda linked militants would attack polling stations, no serious incidents were reported on election day. A UN peacekeeping mission integrating more than 6,000 west African soldiers into its ranks is charged with ensuring security in the post-election period, and will grow to 11,200 troops, plus 1,400 police, by the end of the year.
The deployment allows France to start withdrawing most of the 4,500 troops it sent to Mali in January and Paris plans to have just 1,000 troops on the ground by the end of the year. "We believe we are emerging from this crisis," Mali's Prime Minister Diango Cissoko said on a visit to Ivory Coast.