Boubacar Keita is favourite to become new Mali President

Malians voted in a presidential runoff yesterday with former Prime Minister Ibrahim Boubacar Keita the frontrunner in an election which is critical to restoring stability after a military coup and Islamist rebellion last year.

The winner will oversee more than $4 billion in foreign aid promised to rebuild the West African nation, after France sent thousands of troops in January to break the grip of al-Qaeda-linked rebels over its desert north.

He must also tackle deep-rooted corruption and forge a lasting peace with northern Tuaregs after decades of sporadic uprisings, problems that led to the overthrow of President Amadou Toumani Toure in the March 2012 coup and allowed Islamists to seize the northern two-thirds of Mali.

“Whatever the decision of the ballot box, Mali has already won,” Keita, 68, told reporters after voting in the capital Bamako. “We’ve come together to rebuild a new Mali and give it a new destiny,” said Keita, who is opposed by Soumaila Cisse, 63, a technocrat from northern Mali who headed the West African monetary union (UEMOA).

Keita is the favourite after winning nearly 40 per cent of the first-round vote on July 28, promising to impose order and restore the honour of the nation, which had been regarded as a bulwark of stability in a turbulent region.
Twenty-two of the 25 losing first-round candidates have thrown their weight behind Keita, known as IBK, a man who earned a reputation for firmness in crushing student protests and strikes when he was prime minister in the 1990s.

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