The election is seen as the first step toward getting Mali back on its feet after a disastrous 18 month political crisis and an Islamist takeover of the north.
Malians voted Sunday in numbers that many think will set a new record in a country where voter turnout has never been more than 40 percent.
Youssouf Sangare has worked in polling stations for the past five elections. For this election, he is the president of the largest voting center in Bamako, the Nyarkolo school. He said, “A lot of people came out. From open to close, people came and just kept coming. I have never seen anything like it in my lifetime.”
As night fell and election officials counted ballots by lamplight, individual polling offices at the Nyarkolo center said they were counting turnouts as high as 65 percent.
Even as voting began Sunday morning across town in Bamako’s Commune 5, voter Amady Diallo said he knew this time would be different. “This election is a special case. We had the war, the coup, the jihadists who invaded the country. We need a legitimate government to fix things. That is why Malians are coming out in mass to vote to get a legitimate president and get Mali out of this rut it is in,” he said.
It has been just seven months since French, Malian and regional troops liberated much of the north from al-Qaida-linked militants who seized control in the chaos that followed a new Tuareg rebellion in the north and a March 2012 military coup in the south.
Voter turnout was reported to be enthusiastic in the formerly occupied town of Gao Sunday. However, farther north, in the Tuareg rebel stronghold of Kidal, the number of ballots cast by midday was in the single digits for polling offices counting hundreds of registered voters.
Mali had just a few short months to organize this election, and there were issues, most notably with the voter list that had not been updated since 2009. However, officials say they were able to distribute 85 percent of the new biometric voter cards ahead of the vote.
The day was not without glitches. Some voters had trouble finding where they should vote, and there were reports that some Malians outside the country were not able to vote.
A few of the 27 candidates expressed concern about fraud in the run-up to the poll.
Voter Naba Keita said “I trust in this election but authorities need to be vigilant to prevent people from cheating.”
Mali’s interim president Diouncounda Traore has urged candidates to “remain democrats to the end” and accept the results.
French, Malian and U.N. troops secured the vote nationwide. Security forces were on high alert in the formerly occupied northern towns that have been the target of jihadist attacks and suicide bombings since being liberated in January. No incidents were reported.