Malians vote in presidential runoff
(CNN) — Malians headed to the polls Sunday to vote for a president after a coup last year plunged the nation into chaos and left the north in the hands of Islamists.
Heavy rain fell in the morning, potentially lowering turnout. Early results could come in as early as Sunday night, though final results are not expected for days.
The contest is between veteran politician and former Prime Minister Ibrahim Boubacar Keita, who got nearly 40% of votes in the first round, and former Finance Minister Soumaila Cisse, who garnered close to 20% of the vote.
Keita ran for office in 2002 and 2007. He lost both times, most recently to Amadou Toumani Toure.
Toure was ousted by a faction of the military in March of last year, plunging Mali into chaos.
A group of outraged soldiers accused the government of not providing adequate equipment to battle ethnic Tuareg rebels roaming the vast desert in the north. Disgruntled, the soldiers marched to the palace.
A few hours later, a soldier appeared on state television and said the military was in control of the nation. The coup leader later stepped down and transferred power to a civilian transitional government.
But uncertainty reigned.
Islamic extremists, some with ties to al Qaeda, capitalized on the coup. They toppled the Tuareg tribe roaming in the north and seized control of Timbuktu and other cities in the region. They carved out a large portion of the region and began instituting their own laws.
They banned music, smoking, drinking and watching sports on television, and destroyed historic tombs and shrines in the north. World leaders feared that the al Qaeda-linked militants would turn the area into a terrorist haven.
Their victories prompted a French-led military campaign in January to flush out the insurgents. France has a close tie to Mali after holding it as a colony from 1898 to 1960.
A successful election would allow France to withdraw some of the troops it put in place to halt Islamist militants from advancing toward the capital, Bamako. French troops and United Nations peacekeepers still patrol the streets of the fragile north.
The runoff election is taking place because no candidate won a majority in the first round of voting last month.
Journalist Katarina Hoije contributed to this report from Bamako.