Madame Lobbo Toure, First Lady of the Republic of Mali. The west African nation will vote on Sunday, April 29 on who will run the country over the next few years.
Originally uploaded by Pan-African News Wire File Photos.
Mali's system of consensus government means Toure has the backing of more than 30 parties
Mali heads to the polls on Sunday to vote in presidential elections in which the incumbent, Amadou Toumani Toure, is expected to win a second five-year term.
Voters will cast their ballots at 20,000 polling stations to choose between eight candidates hoping to be elected leader of the vast and impoverished African country.
Popularly known by his initials "ATT", Toure has centred his campaign on continuing a development programme which has already created roads and basic facilities for remote villages.
"We have not done everything but we have learned over the past five years what is possible," he said on the eve of the vote.
"We can go much further. And if Malians so wish, we would like to do so."
Campaigning has generally been good-humoured and low-key, with battered minibuses doing the rounds and youths hanging off them chanting "ATT" or "IBK", the initials of Toure's main rival and the president of the national assembly, Ibrahim Boubacar Keita.
Toure first seized power in a 1991 coup and won international acclaim for handing over to an elected president the following year.
Dubbed "The Soldier of Malian Democracy" he then retired from the army and was elected head of state in 2002, maintaining a favourable reputation among donors and investors ever since.
Turnout in Malian elections has traditionally been low due to high levels of illiteracy.
Many voters in some rural areas also have to walk long distances to cast their ballots.
Mali's unusual style of consensus government, under which Toure has the backing of more than 30 political parties, also means many voters feel the outcome is almost inevitable.
But some opposition supporters hope a low turnout may work against the incumbent, forcing the elections to a second round if he fails to win more than 50 percent of the vote.
"ATT has not resolved all the country's problems. There is still a lot of youth unemployment," Cheikh Oumar Kouyate, a 27-year-old, unemployed accountancy graduate, said.
Mali voters elect new president
Voters in Mali are going to the polls in presidential elections contested by eight candidates.
President Amadou Toumani Toure - who is seeking a second and final five-year term - is seen as a clear favourite.
Although officially running as an independent, he is backed by more than 30 parties in the West African nation.
Opposition candidates say the voters' list favours the incumbent, accusing Mr Toure's supporters of using state assets to fund his electoral campaign.
The strongest opposition challenger is Ibrahim Boubacar Keita, the president of Mali's national assembly and former prime minister who came third in the 2002 poll.
Part of Mr Toure's popularity stems from the fact that he played a leading role in ending military dictatorship with a coup 16 years ago, says the BBC's West Africa correspondent Will Ross.
He says turnout is likely to be low as many voters have not picked up their registration cards.
Nearly 1,000 international and local observers are expected to monitor the polls.
Mali is Africa's third largest gold producer but the vast majority of the country's 14 million people live off the land, our correspondent says.
The plight of the cotton farmers had been a key election issue, he says.
Analysts hope the elections will go some way to boost democracy in the region, especially after the widely criticised polls in Nigeria, our correspondent says.
One African human rights organisation has said that democracy seems to be losing steam.
If no candidate gets an absolute majority in the first round, the two top candidates will compete in a run-off in two week's time.
Story from BBC NEWS:
Published: 2007/04/29 03:26:07 GMT
A Presidential Election That Breaks With Tradition
Inter Press Service (Johannesburg)
April 24, 2007
By Almahady Cissé
When Malians queue to cast ballots in presidential elections Sunday, they will be participating in a poll with a difference: for the first time ever, a woman will be amongst the candidates voters have to choose between.
Sidibé Aminata Diallo is representing the Movement for Environmental Education and Sustainable Development (Rassemblement pour l'éducation à l'environnement et au développement durable). A lecturer and specialist researcher in land management, she teaches at the Faculty of Economic Sciences and Management at the University of Bamako, Mali's capital.
"I want to develop policies that leave behind theoretical debates to deal concretely with the real problems of Malians," she told IPS, noting that while environmental degradation in Mali was serious, it had been "only marginally raised in electoral debates".
"My motivation stems from this indifference. Our development must be based on balanced ecosystems," Diallo added. "Mali will have to make important environmental choices during the next five years, taking into account the fragility of its ecosystem in the regions of the north as well as in the south."
Her priorities include halting deforestation in the vast West African country, of which large parts -- particularly in the north -- are already desert. Campaigning under the slogan 'Development must be sustainable for present and future generations', Diallo also wants to push for policies that promote renewable energy sources, research alternative ways of dealing with urban pollution -- and improve health conditions.
It's a strategy that isn't winning over everyone.
"She just wants to get herself noticed, and perhaps win a Nobel Prize for her defence of the environment," says Aliou Koné, a young, unemployed law graduate in Bamako -- possibly in reference to Kenyan politician Wangari Maathai, who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2004 for her efforts to protect human rights and the environment.
"We want concrete proposals from her on unemployment and poverty. The environment comes after all this."
Diallo may not even be able to count on a constituency that some could assume was hers for the taking: women.
For the moment, the Co-ordinated Women's Associations and NGOs of Mali (Coordination des associations et ONG féminines du Mali, CAFO) is providing her with limited support -- this after she pledged to promote women's rights if elected, in addition to working for protection of the environment.
"It's the first time in Mali that a woman is aspiring to the top office," Fatim Maïga, in charge of gender issues at CAFO, told IPS, noting that for "symbolic reasons" and because she'd taken up the challenge, Aminata Diallo deserved the support of women.
But Coulibaly Fanta Kéita, another CAFO activist, is sceptical about Diallo's chances: "Malian women, for the most part, will vote for the outgoing president, Amadou Toumani Touré, because of what he has done for women -- notably (introducing) free Caesarean deliveries, anti-retrovirals and low cost housing."
Some 10,000 people now receive anti-retroviral treatment (estimates on the website of the Joint United Nations Programme for HIV/AIDS put the number of adults infected with HIV in Mali at about 110,000). Under Touré, who hopes to return to office for a second five-year term, about 3,500 low cost housing units have been built.
Kéita forms part of a group of women that organised collections amongst women to pay Touré's election registration fee of about 20,000 dollars.
In addition to overcoming scepticism, Diallo also has to do battle with custom.
"Mali is a patriarchal society, and men take a dim view of women having positions of leadership and responsibility. (But) it's just a question of time (before) attitudes change," Alhassane Maïga, a sociologist based in Bamako, told IPS.
"Before, it was inconceivable to send girls to school. But we have today, in Mali, women managers, heads of business, ministers, and even heads of households."
Notes Ousmane Coulibaly, a politician and member of the Alliance for Democracy and Progress (Alliance pour la démocratie et le progrès), "This (Diallo's candidacy) shows the maturity of our democracy. A woman president, for me, could be a good thing."
"We must reckon with women (being part of the political process) from now on."
The Alliance is supporting Touré, even though the president is running as an independent.
Eight candidates will contest the Apr. 29 election. In the event that none wins a majority of votes in this poll, a second ballot will take place May 13 between the two candidates who obtain the highest number of votes in the first round of polling.