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Last Updated: Friday, 27 April 2007, 09:28 GMT 10:28 UK
Q&A: Mali presidential election
Malian President Amadou Toumani Toure campaigning for upcoming presidential elections
Incumbent President Toure is favourite to win

Voters in the west African state of Mali go to the polls on 29 April to elect a president for a five-year term.

The country was a military dictatorship for more than two decades after gaining its independence from France in 1960, but has had a civilian government since 1992.

Q: What is at stake?

Poverty, job-creation and public services, such as schools and health clinics, are the major issues for most ordinary Malians.

This landlocked country on the edge of the Sahara Desert is one of the poorest countries in the world and this has led huge numbers of Malians to try to smuggle themselves into Europe.

Many would-be immigrants from other African countries also pass through Mali and France has been putting a lot of pressure on the Mali government to tackle the problem.

A predominantly Muslim country, Mali is a key US ally in its war against international terrorism. These elections come at a time of renewed Islamist violence in neighbouring Algeria, and Algerian Islamists continue to be linked with the training of militant groups in northern Mali.

Mending fences with Ivory Coast will be also priority for the winner of the election. The Malian economy depends heavily on having access to Ivorian markets and ports, but relations between the two countries have been strained for years. The Ivorian government accused Mali of backing anti-government rebels in the civil war that broke out in 2002.

Q: Who is the front-runner?

There are eight candidates, six of whom also stood in the 2002 election.

The incumbent president, Amadou Toumani Toure, who is seeking his second and final term, is the favourite to win.

Mr Toure remains a hero among Mali's 11.7 million people for his leading role in ending the military regime of Gen Moussa Traore in March 1991, and also for overseeing a peaceful transition to the country's first democratic elections in 1992.

He has no official party but enjoys the backing of numerous support groups and the cluster of parties that make up a coalition called the Alliance for Democracy and Progress.

He has pledged to defend Mali's democracy and to develop the poor and volatile north.

He has made himself unpopular with some Malian exiles by seeming to back France's hardline stance against illegal immigrants.

Q: Who is the main challenger?

The biggest challenge to Mr Toure comes from Ibrahim Boubacar Keita, the president of the National Assembly and leader of the Rally for Mali (RPM) party.

Mr Keita has previously served as prime minister and foreign minister, and came third in the 2002 presidential election.

His main campaign themes have been good governance and the need to boost the economy.

Q: How powerful is the president?

Mali has a strong presidency: the president has powers to nominate the country's premier.

Q: How does the voting system work?

The president is elected by universal suffrage for a maximum of two consecutive five-year terms.

If no candidate gets an absolute majority in the first round, the top two candidates from the first round will compete in a run-off scheduled for 13 May.

Q: Will the election be free and fair?

The head of the body that is conducting the poll, Siaka Sangare, has insisted that the election will be "transparent".

In 2002 - when Mr Toure won a landslide victory - the poll was marred by allegations of fraud.

Q: Who will monitor the polls?

The election authorities have said that foreign observers are welcome and that some 1,000 observers from Africa and Europe have received accreditation.

African monitors will mostly come from the Economic Community of West African States (Ecowas) and the African Union (AU).

Q: What is the role of the military?

Although formal military rule ended in 1991, Mali's armed forces remain a powerful institution.

Mr Toure is himself a former general and is said to enjoy the support of the military. His critics have pointed out that key election officials such as Mr Sangare are also former military officers.

BBC Monitoring selects and translates news from radio, television, press, news agencies and the internet from 150 countries in more than 70 languages. It is based in Caversham, UK, and has several bureaux abroad.




Compiled by BBC Monitoring

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