Voters stand in queue at a polling station in Gao, Mali [Souleymane Ag Anara-AFP]

Malians headed to the polls on Sunday for a long-delayed parliamentary election just hours after the country recorded its first coronavirus death and with the leading opposition figure kidnapped and believed to be in the hands of jihadists.

There were security fears about the vote even before the war-torn West African country recorded its first coronavirus infection on Wednesday.

Some 200,000 people displaced by the near-daily violence in Mali’s centre and north will not be able to vote, because “no mechanism has been established” for them to do so, a government official said.

There were also fears that the impoverished state of some 19 million people — where large swathes of territory lie outside state control — is particularly exposed to a COVID-19 outbreak.


Late Saturday, just hours before polls opened at 0800 GMT Sunday, the country’s first coronavirus death was announced, with the number of infections rising to 18.

“I came to vote, but I’m afraid,” said Souleymane Diallo, a 34-year old teacher. “As you can see there’s nobody here. Maybe because it’s the morning, but it’s also not surprising because of the situation.”

The poll will see new MPs elected to the 147-seat National Assembly for the first time since 2013, when President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita’s Rally for Mali party won a substantial majority.

Parliamentary elections were meant to take place again in late 2018 following Keita’s re-election, but the poll was postponed several times, largely due to security concerns.

After Sunday’s first round vote, a second round is scheduled for April 19.

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