Keita given strong mandate for reform in Mali vote
BAMAKO (Reuters) - Ibrahim Boubacar Keita won Mali's presidential runoff with 78 percent of the vote, the government said on Thursday, giving him a strong mandate to seek peace with northern separatists and for sweeping reforms to the army after a military coup.
Sunday's vote marked a transition back to democratic rule after the March 2012 coup plunged Mali into turmoil, allowing Islamist insurgents to seize the desert north. A French-led military intervention in January liberated the region.
Former Prime Minister Keita, whose rival Soumaila Cisse had already admitted defeat on Monday, has said his first priority will be to forge a lasting peace in northern Mali with Tuareg separatist rebels.
Many in the country's populous south, however, are strongly opposed to ceding more autonomy and funds to the northerners, who they blame for the country's current crisis.
Keita also faces huge challenges in reforming the military, tackling widespread corruption and reviving Mali's ailing economy. His hand will be strengthened by 3.25 billion euros ($4.31 billion) in reconstruction aid pledged at a conference in Brussels in May.
"This vote shows that Keita is loved by the people. Now he is the master of his own destiny. He can do what he wants and choose the team that he wants," said Mariam Diallo, a political campaigner and analyst in Bamako. "But he must be careful not to disappoint the people."
General Moussa Sinko Coulibaly, minister for territorial administration, said turnout at Sunday's vote fell slightly to 46 percent from the record level of 49 percent registered in the July 28 first round.
Some 6.8 million Malians were registered to vote.
Keita, who captured the public mood with promises to restore the dignity of the once-proud nation, had received the endorsement of 22 of the 25 losing candidates from the July 28 first round.
Many Malians are now waiting to see if Keita, due to be inaugurated on September 19, will pack the cabinet with his backers to repay political favors, or name a technocratic government many say is needed to push through much-needed reforms.
He has promised zero tolerance for corruption and vowed to avoid the mistakes of ousted President Amadou Toumani Toure, whose unity governments meant there was no criticism of Mali's ineffectual administration, undermining faith in democracy.
A spokesman for Cisse, who pledged on Tuesday to give Mali a real opposition for the first time in years, welcomed the results.
"We will work to improve this score still further in the coming legislative elections to have more members of parliament so we can fully play our role of opposition," Amadou Koita said.
The results need confirmation from the Constitutional Court but this is a formality as Cisse says he will not challenge them.
They come a day after the government of interim President Dioncounda Traore promoted coup leader Captain Amadou Sanogo to the rank of four-star general. The move, criticized by human rights groups, was a step towards Sanogo leaving the army, diplomats said.
(Writing by David Lewis; Editing by Bate Felix and Alison Williams)
Cisse concedes, congratulates Keita for winning Mali vote
BAMAKO (Reuters) - Soumaila Cisse on Monday conceded defeat in Mali's presidential election runoff, congratulating his rival Ibrahim Boubacar Keita on winning a vote meant to draw a line under more than a year of turmoil in the West African nation.
Cisse's concession, hours after he complained the election had been marred by fraud, will deepen optimism for Mali's recovery. Keita, a former prime minister, inherits a broken nation and must still negotiate peace with northern rebels.
"My family and I went and congratulated Mr Keita, the future president of Mali, on his victory. May God bless Mali," Cisse, a former finance minister, said on his official Twitter feed.
Keita had been widely expected to win Sunday's vote, having swept the July 28 first round with nearly 40 percent of votes on a ticket to restore order after a March 2012 military coup allowed Islamist and separatist rebels to seize control of the northern two-thirds of Mali.
Cisse said earlier on Monday that the vote had been marred by fraud and intimidation. However, international and local observers said that, despite small irregularities, the process had been credible.
"This election, from a democratic standards point of view, is a success," said the head of a European Union observer mission, Louis Michel.
"It is an election that allows Mali now to start finishing the process that it has begun: the return to a normal democracy."
France sent thousands of troops in January to break the al Qaeda-linked rebels' grip on northern Mali.
Paris now aims to draw down its contingent to a rapid response team of 1,000 troops to face the scattered Islamist threat, while handing broader security duties to a 12,600-strong U.N. peacekeeping mission being deployed.
Keita received the backing of 22 of the 25 losing first round candidates.
Diplomats now hope a clean election will give him a strong mandate to negotiate a lasting peace with northern Tuareg separatists, reform the army and tackle deep-rooted graft.
"This was an important stage in the transition in Mali towards peace and reconciliation," U.N. Special Representative for Mali Bert Koenders said. "There were small imperfections ... but the lack of violence was impressive in a country which has just emerged from conflict."
MUJWA, one of three Islamist groups which seized control of northern Mali last year, had threatened to carry out attacks on polling stations in northern Mali before the July 28 first round but the electoral process passed off without any violence.
(Additional reporting by Adama Diarra; Writing by David Lewis; Editing by Robin Pomeroy and Eric Walsh)