Mali's presidential election hopefuls promise peace and renewal
Campaigning for Mali’s presidential elections, due on July 28, began on Sunday, with hopefuls including four former prime ministers and just one woman.
Haider Aichata Cisse, a legislator for a constituency near the northern city of Gao, will go head-to-head with 27 men, including past premiers Ibrahim Boubacar Keita, Cheick Modibo Diarra, Modibo Sidibe and Soumana Sacko.
Keita, prime minister from 1994 to 2000 and president of the National Assembly for five years from 2002, was one of several of the high-profile presidential hopefuls to hold news conferences or rallies announcing their candidatures in front of thousands of backers, in his case in Bamako.
Soumaila Cisse, a former chairman of the Commission of the West African Monetary Union, announced his tilt at leadership in the northeastern regional capital of Mopti while Dramane Dembele, who stands for the Alliance for Democracy in Mali, the country's main political party, laid out his prospectus in the southern town of Sikasso.
The candidates mostly voiced similar goals, such as rebuilding the country, restoring peace, ensuring security and development, and fighting endemic corruption.
The ballot will be the first since a coup in March last year which ousted the democratically-elected president, just months before he was due to step down at the end of his final term in office.
The transitional government lifted a nearly six-month state of emergency on Saturday so that election campaigning can go ahead.
But critics of the process argue that it is being rushed and, far from restoring democracy, the process could plunge the nation further into chaos.
A UN peacekeeping mission integrating more than 6,000 west African soldiers into its ranks is charged with ensuring security during and after the elections, and will grow to 11,200 troops, plus 1,400 police, by the end of the year.
The deployment allows France to start withdrawing most of the 4,500 troops it sent to Mali in January to stop the Islamists from advancing towards the capital, Bamako, from their northern strongholds.
France plans to have just 1,000 troops on the ground before the end of 2013 and has been pushing for a quick election in the hopes of restoring order to the country, under the control of an interim government since the coup.
But Mali's election commission has expressed doubts it will be ready to hold the vote on July 28, with some 500,000 people still displaced after the conflict, and many observers have raised concerns over the security challenges in the conflict-scarred vast desert north.
Tiebile Drame, architect of a peace deal enabling Malian troops to enter Kidal and secure the polls said on Thursday that it was "very clear" that the elections would be "botched".
"The government is not ready, the minister of territorial administration is not ready, contrary to what he said, and the Céni (election commission) is not ready," Drame said.
A European Union mission, made up of 90 observers, has begun work in Mali, and will report on whether the elections, which will go to a second round on August 11 if necessary, should be seen as credible a few weeks after the result is announced.
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