Malians go to the polls on Sunday to elect a new president amid growing concerns over the country’s fragile security situation due to ongoing attacks by armed groups.
Voters will decide whether to give President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita, 73, a second term or replace him with one of his 23 rivals.
Opposition leader Soumaila Cisse, 68, is seen as his main challenger.
Mali has struggled to deal with armed groups and sectarian infighting despite international military interventions and a 2015 peace deal, and much of the country’s north remains beyond government control.
The election takes place against the backdrop of high-profile attacks by a number of armed groups, while accusations of heavy-handed counterterror operations by Malian troops and deadly communal clashes between wary ethnic groups add to the insecurity.
Meanwhile, the local branch of al-Qaeda issued warned voters this week to stay away from the polls.
Adama Djiguiba, a shopkeeper in a village in central Mali, said he is “very scared for the elections”.
“There is a great risk that there will be terrorist attacks or inter-communal clashes,” he told The Associated Press news agency.
Experts say people may be forced to shun the process if security does not improve.
“I think this situation of insecurity will push the voters not to participate in the vote,” Ibrahim Maiga, a researcher at the Institute for Security Studies said, told AP.
The government and the electoral commission have promised a smooth vote, but many among Mali’s eight million registered voters are still worried.
“If you want to make fraud possible, it is enough for political parties to give money to office agents to corrupt them and they will accept people who come with voter cards that do not belong to them,” Hamadou Guindo, a student in the capital, Bamako, told AP.
Fraud could lead to post-election violence, he added.
|Soumaila Cisse, opposition presidential candidate, is President Keita’s main rival in the July 29 polls [The Associated Press]|
On Wednesday, armed protesters from Mali’s Arab community fired shots into the air, burned tyres and torched vehicles in Timbuktu, bringing the desert city to a standstill, officials said.
The youths, mostly petty traders, were protesting against worsening insecurity and alleged ill treatment by security forces in the north.
Experts say the country is less secure than in 2013, after French-backed forces pushed separatists in the north from their strongholds.
Deadly attacks have become more brazen in recent months as they take aim at French and Malian forces and the United Nations’ peacekeeping mission.
But Keita, also known as IBK, has played down the country’s security problems.
“There are pockets of violence, residues of terrorism that even (French forces) haven’t managed to vanquish from Malian soil. Are you going to blame all that on IBK?” he said.
SOURCE: Al Jazeera and news agencies