Candidates S. Cisse (l) and President I. B. Keita (r) (265627)
Credit: GIN photo

July 30, 2018 (GIN)—As Malians went to the polls Sunday, more than 700 polling stations were shuttered amid threats of violence and attacks, including election officials beaten up, ballot boxes burned and election supervisors stopped by armed groups from entering polling stations.

The affected polling stations are located in the country’s central and northern regions, areas troubled by Islamic extremism and ethnic unrest. Fighting among pro-government militias, Nusrat al-Islam wal Muslimeen and foreign forces have forced more than 300,000 people to become refugees in other countries, with tens of thousands as internally displaced in their own country.

Although the counting of ballots is underway, no ballots were cast at 716 polling stations, authorities said, because violence forced the stations to stay closed despite the deployment of 30,000 security personnel throughout the country.

President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita is running against Soumaila Cisse, a former finance and economy minister, who ran in 2013 and lost against the president. Cisse has already complained about the vote being disrupted, as well as possible election fraud.

The international community was hoping for an overall successful presidential election. A positive outcome would help solidify a peace agreement between the government, pro-government forces and former Tuareg rebels in combating Islamic extremists in the largely lawless north.

Initial results of Sunday’s vote are expected later this week, with a final result coming by Friday.

If no candidate wins more than 50 percent of the vote, a runoff is scheduled for Aug. 12.

President Keita is seeking a second term against 24 challengers.