Q&A: Mali's presidential election

People attend a rally for presidential candidate Ibrahim Boubacar Keita, at the March 26 Stadium in Bamako
Image caption After a year of upheaval, security is a key concern for many voters

The people of Mali go to the polls on 28 July to vote in a presidential election considered crucial for the return to constitutional rule and stability in the West African nation.

The poll is intended to end months of political crisis that started when soldiers overthrew President Amadou Toumani Toure in March 2012, allowing separatist rebels and Islamist militants to seize the north of the country.

France sent its troops in January 2013 to drive out the militants from the northern cities of Timbuktu, Kidal and Gao. A UN peacekeeping mission took over from the French and African troops on 1 July, and will support the army in securing the poll.

Image caption The Tuaregs have been fighting for autonomy in the north since Mali's independence in 1960

What are the key issues?

The stabilisation of Mali has been high on the campaign agenda of all candidates. Insecurity remains a big challenge, especially because of numerous armed groups in the north - Tuareg separatist groups and hardline Islamist insurgents. Fighters said to belong to al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb were reportedly recruiting young boys and women in the north-eastern region of Kidal to carry out attacks on election day.

The revival of the economy is also at stake. Western donors have agreed to a $43bn (£28bn) package for Mali's economic recovery plan, linked to the implementation of a political road map, which includes the elections.

Will it go ahead on time?

The government insists the vote will proceed on 28 July despite concerns over preparedness.

For starters, some 1.2 million potential voters have not been registered, while half a million people have been displaced by the conflict, according to the government-controlled Independent National Electoral Commission (Ceni).

Some of the candidates filed a court case seeking a delay of the vote because of the incomplete voters' roll and questions about the rights of voters in the north, where there has been little campaigning.

The International Crisis Group has also called for a postponement, saying the existing timeline could lead to a chaotic and contested vote and a new president without legitimacy.

But senior government and political leaders have rejected any delay, with Prime Minister Django Cissoko saying 28 July was "good".

Interim President Dioncounda Traore commented that "the sooner a new government was installed, the sooner the real reasons for the crisis can be taken care of".

Image caption Former PM Cheick Modibo Diarra used to head Microsoft in Africa

Who are the candidates?

Twenty-eight candidates were cleared to contest. They are the finalists who made it after 36 hopefuls presented their papers. However one contestant later withdrew, saying the electoral process was flawed.

The front runners are three former prime ministers - Cheick Modibo Diarra, Modibo Sidibe and Ibrahim Boubacar Keita - and ex-Finance Minister Soumaila Cisse, according to the Malian media.

One female candidate from the north, Haider Aichata Cisse, is in the running.

President Traore, who took over in April 2012 after the then military junta accepted a transition to civilian rule, is not allowed to stand.

Image caption Ex-Finance Minister Soumaila Cisse is also a software engineer

How does the system work?

Under the electoral rules, candidates must be Malian citizens aged at least 35 years. They must have the backing of 10 legislators or five local councillors from each of the country's nine administrative regions.

If there is no clear winner during the first round, the two leading candidates will head for a run-off on 11 August.

There are an estimated 6.8 million voters out of a total population of 15 million, who mostly live in rural areas.

There will be 25,000 polling stations that will open between 08:00-18:00 local time.

The register is biometric and voters will use a national identification number card to cast their ballots. The government started handing out these voter cards at the end of June, ahead of the official campaigning period between 7 and 26 July.

Hundreds of local and foreign observers have been accredited, including 90 observers from the European Union and dozens of others from the African Union and the UN.

Image caption Ibrahim Boubacar Keita was prime minister in the 1990s

Will the media influence the vote?

The local media have not indicated their preferred candidates. On the contrary, there have been calls for balanced coverage and professional conduct.

Journalists have been given training on reporting the elections by the local Malian journalists' union, the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ), and Unesco.

The minister of religious affairs, Yacouba Traore, has urged faith-based radio stations to "sensitise the populations on a peaceful and transparent election".

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