x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Keita confirmed as new Mali president

Ibrahim Boubacar Keita has won Mali's presidential runoff election with 78 per cent of the vote, the government has announced.

BAMAKO // Ibrahim Boubacar Keita has won Mali's presidential runoff election with 78 per cent of the vote, the government announced yesterday.

The result gives the former prime minister a strong mandate to seek peace with northern separatists and to push for sweeping reforms of the army after a military coup.

Sunday's vote marked a transition back to democratic rule after the coup in March last year plunged Mali into turmoil, allowing Islamist insurgents to seize the desert north.

A French-led military intervention in January liberated the region.

Mr Keita - whose rival, Soumaila Cisse, had already admitted defeat on Monday - has said his first priority would be to forge a lasting peace with the Tuareg separatist rebels in northern Mali.

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.

Mr Keita also faces huge challenges in reforming the military, tackling widespread corruption and reviving Mali's ailing economy.

However, his hand will be strengthened by €3.25 billion (Dh15.9bn) in reconstruction aid pledged during a conference in Brussels in May.

Mr 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 last month's first round of voting.

Many Malians are now waiting to see whether Keita, who is due to be inaugurated on September 19, will pack the cabinet with his backers to repay political favours, or name the technocratic government many say is needed to push through much-needed reforms.

"This vote shows that Keita is loved by the people", said Mariam Diallo, a political campaigner and analyst in Bamako. "But he must be careful not to disappoint the people."