US 'applauds' largely peaceful Mali vote
The United States on Monday "applauded" the holding of "largely peaceful" parliamentary elections in Mali, saying they would be a critical step toward restoring a democratic government after last year's coup.
Low voter turnout remained a "challenge" which the US was hoping to address through democracy programs, but since 1992 only 21 percent to 33 percent of eligible voters had cast ballots in national polls.
"Sunday's participation rate appears to be on the high end of this range," a State Department official told AFP.
"We applaud the government of Mali on a largely peaceful first round of elections and for the technical improvements to the voting process they have implemented since the presidential elections in July and August of this year," the official said.
The elections mark "a critical step in Mali's return to constitutional order and the establishment of a fully-functioning government with the necessary legitimacy to pursue longer-term political and development priorities," he added.
Sunday's vote is intended to help seal the west African nation's return to democracy after it was plunged into chaos by a military coup in March 2012, that toppled democratically elected president Amadou Toumani Toure.
Some 6.5 million Malians were eligible to vote for a new national assembly, with more than 1,000 candidates running for the 147 seats -- but turnout initially looked weak across the country and there were reports of thefts of ballot boxes in the north.
Washington granted some $10 million to help assist the holding of the elections and sent 40 observers who were spread out around the country to back domestic and international observer missions.
The election played out amid an upsurge in violence by Al-Qaeda-linked rebels who stalk the vast northern desert, an ever-present danger to French and African troops tasked with providing security for the election alongside the Malian army.
The ruling Rally for Mali (RPM) party has vowed to deliver "a comfortable majority" to smoothe the way for the reforms new President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita plans to put in place to rebuild Mali's stagnant economy and soothe simmering ethnic tensions in the north.
If no party is able to form a government after Sunday's vote, a second round will be held on December 15.