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Sunday, 12 May, 2002, 14:44 GMT 15:44 UK
Gloves off in Mali election
Adema candidate Soumaila Cisse
Soumaila Cisse has a tough fight on his hands
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By Joan Baxter
BBC correspondent in Bamako
line

As Malians head to the polls for the second round of presidential elections, each side in the two-man race is busy attacking the other with allegations of fraud, adding to the suspicions that have clouded the electoral process since the first round of voting on 28 April.

Amadou Toumani Toure campaigning
General Toure is favourite to win
Lassana Traore, campaign manager for General Amadou Toumani Toure, alleges that Soumaila Cisse, candidate for the ruling party Adema, has mounted a "battery" of fraud.

He maintains that Mr Cisse's camp, which is closely linked to the Interior Ministry - which organised the elections - has been buying up voters' cards from supporters of General Toure, and then destroying them, which would make it impossible for those people to vote.

He points out that about half of all the 5.7 million eligible Malian voters retrieved their voters cards from local mayors' offices, and alleges that mayors throughout the country, mostly members of the ruling party, did not return the cards to the Interior Ministry as required by the law.

He said they have instead been distributing them along with false identity cards to people who agree to vote for Mr Cisse.

Mr Traore says General Toure's camp is "protecting itself" by putting in place a "vigilance brigade" of young people to watch over all 12,004 polling stations.

He says 30% of General Toure's campaign budget for the second round of the elections has been spent trying to fight fraud in the polling, but refused to divulge how much money was involved.

Tit for tat

Just a few blocks away, in the campaign headquarters of Soumaila Cisse, located on top of a shop selling elaborate bridal dresses in downtown Bamako, Mr Cisse's campaign organisers repeat exactly the same allegations of fraud being organised against them.

National campaign monitor Oumar Traore claims that if the first round of voting had been free and fair, Soumaila Cisse would have either won outright or at least come out ahead of General Toure.


If there is no fraud, our candidate will win with a huge margin

Soumaila Cisse's campaign monitor

He says the ruling party has been training its polling station staff on how to prevent fraud by the other side.

He adds that he is "very worried" by the fraud that marked the first round of polling, and could do the same in Sunday's run-off poll.

He alleges that General Toure's organisers have been procuring massive numbers of proxy voting forms, and are also organising false witnesses to vouch for voters' identities.

"If there is no fraud," he says, "our candidate will win with a huge margin."

In a bitter final campaign address to the nation on state television on Friday night, Soumaila Cisse alluded to outgoing President Konare's apparent support for General Toure, noting that the head of state had not even offered him wishes of good luck.

Instead, Mr Cisse said he had been the victim of "a permanent plot, insults, betrayal, and personal attacks".

"We've seen the thieves cry 'thief'," Mr Cisse said.

Annulment

Outside the immediate camps of the two candidates, observers agree that Mr Toure would appear to be a favourite in the second round, given the support he has received from Ibrahim Boubacar Keita and his Espoir (Hope) 2002 alliance of 15 parties.

Adema candidate Soumaila Cisse
Cisse does not have the support of outgoing president Konare

According to the official and final results issued by Mali's Constitutional Court, the combined vote for Mr Keita and other presidential candidates in the Espoir 2002 coalition was close to 30%, although Mr Keita and many in the country continue to allege "massive and grotesque" fraud that knocked him out of the second round.

And others ask how the court could accept the overall results of the first round of polling, when it admitted that fraud led to the annulment of over 500,000 ballots, a quarter of all those cast.

Still, if Mr Keita's supporters respect his request that they now vote for Mr Toure, who received 28.7% of the vote in the first round, he could have close to 60% of support.

But Mr Toure himself refuses to make any predictions.

"There's more to it than mathematics. There are political aspects as well. Let's wait and see the results," he says.

But with allegations of fraud coming from both candidates' camps, even before the polling has finished, it seems likely that whatever the results they will be contested and cast a pall over whoever becomes Mali's new president - for years to come.

See also:

10 May 02 | Africa
Mali's opposition backs general
09 May 02 | Africa
Thousands of Mali votes cancelled
07 May 02 | Africa
Mali court reviews 'vote-rigging'
28 Apr 02 | Africa
Mali votes for new president
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