Mali’s Ibrahim Boubacar Keita holds significant lead in presidential vote

Former Malian prime minister Ibrahim Boubacar Keita holds a “significant” lead over his rivals with a third of the ballots counted from Sunday’s presidential election, a government minister said Tuesday.

If that gap is confirmed, there will be no need for a runoff election, Moussa Sinko Coulibaly, minister of territorial administration, told reporters in the capital, Bamako. Coulibaly has until Friday to send the preliminary results to the constitutional court, which will publish them.

Mali’s first presidential election since an army coup and a French military offensive against rebels in the north won praise from foreign monitors, including the European Union and the International Republican Institute. Foreign donors deemed the election necessary before they can resume aid to the West African nation, the continent’s third-biggest gold producer.

Keita, 68, leads Soumaila Cisse, a 63-year-old former commission chairman of the West African Monetary Union, and Dramane Dembele, a former mining official, Coulibaly said.

The 27-candidate race took place following more than a year of strife after an ethnic-Tuareg uprising in the north prompted a group of soldiers to overthrow the government. French and African forces intervened to restore order after the Tuaregs joined Islamist militants in an offensive that almost split the nation in half.

Voter turnout Sunday was 53.5 percent, Coulibaly said. At least half a million residents have fled from the north to the south or to neighboring countries, according to the United Nations.  

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