, BAMAKO, July 29 – Malian and French leaders on Monday praised the calm and smooth running presidential vote in Mali, the first election since a coup last year led to an Islamist insurgency in the north.
There were no reports of violence in Sunday’s poll despite threats to “strike” polling stations by armed Islamists who had occupied northern Mali before being ousted in January by a French led military intervention.
Local and international observers noted a strong turnout in the populous south, although official data have yet to be released, giving rise to optimism that the voting rate would exceed the 36 percent achieved in 2007 elections.
French President Francois Hollande hailed the Malian vote, “marked by a good turnout and an absence of any major incident”.
“Congratulations are in order that the Mali elections went off well For France, it is a great success,” said his prime minister, Jean Marc Ayraul.
France had a lot riding on a successful election, having pressured its former colony into a quick vote which would allow it to start withdrawing most of the 4,500 troops it sent in to stop the Islamists from advancing towards the capital Bamako.
Even in the northern regional capital of Kidal, a stronghold of Mali’s Tuareg rebellion and the scene of recent deadly ethnic violence, voters cast their ballots in an atmosphere of calm, although the turnout was thought to have been low.
“I’m a happy man. We rose to the challenge of voting in Kidal, a zone of insecurity where almost everyone is armed, without incident, without a single shot, and no one could have imagined that a few weeks ago,” said regional governor Adama Kamissoko.
Louis Michel, the head of the 100 strong European Union election observation mission who visited Kidal for a few hours during voting, spoke of the “huge enthusiasm” of those who did make it to the ballot box.
Sunday’s vote was the first since an uprising by Tuareg separatists sparked a military coup in March last year which toppled democratically elected president Amadou Toumani Toure, plunging Mali into a political crisis which opened the way for Islamists to occupy the vast desert north for 10 months.