Malian President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita has been elected for a second five-year term after winning a runoff ballot by a landslide, according to official figures Thursday.
The elections have been closely watched abroad as Mali is a linchpin state in the jihadist insurgency raging in the Sahel.
Keita, 73, picked up 67.17 percent of Sunday’s vote against 32.83 percent for opposition challenger and former finance minister Soumaila Cisse, 68, who also ran against Keita in 2013. Turnout was low at 34.5 percent.
“I thank you from the bottom of my heart for putting your trust in me once more,” Keita said on his Facebook page.
But Cisse’s party angrily vowed to contest the results, using “all democratic means.”
Mali, a landlocked nation home to at least 20 ethnic groups where most people live on less than $2 (1.76 euros) a day, has been battling a years-long Islamic revolt which has stoked intercommunal violence.
Hundreds of people have died this year alone, most of them in Mopti, an ethnic mosaic in central Mali, in violence involving the Fulani nomadic herder community and Bambara and Dogon farmers.
Keita’s response to the burgeoning crisis was the big campaign issue, with opposition candidates rounding on him for alleged incompetence or indifference.
But the verbal assaults failed to dent his core support, and a fractured opposition and widespread voter apathy left him firm favourite in the final round.
“We are very happy, Mali has won,” Sirandou Soumare, a Keita supporter, told AFP in Bamako. “We want everyone to come together for peace in Mali.”
Voting was marred by jihadist attacks that forced the closure of a small percentage of polling stations, and by allegations of ballot-box stuffing and other irregularities.
Cisse on Monday declared in advance that he would reject the results.
He called on “all Malians to rise up… We will not accept the dictatorship of fraud” — a verbal broadside that triggered a UN appeal for calm.
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres had spoken by phone with the two leaders to stress “the need to always keep the Malian people first, and not to go backwards on the reconciliation effort at a crucial moment,” UN spokesman Farhan Haq said.
Guterres said his envoy for Mali, Mahamat Saleh Annadif of Chad, was ready to mediate.
On Thursday, as Keita supporters rejoiced, Cisse’s campaign chief Tiebile Drame lashed the results as bogus.
“These are their results. They do not reflect the truth of the polls,” Drame said.
“We strongly call for people to mobilise,” he said, adding however that the party intended to harness “all democratic means” to contest the outcome.
Cisse plans to appeal to the Constitutional Court “to get the fraudulent results cancelled” in some regions, Drame said.
Observer missions sent by the European Union and the African Union (AU) have issued provisional reports saying the election was not badly impaired.
“Our observers did not see fraud but irregularities,” EU mission chief Cecile Kyenge said. The AU said voting was conducted “in acceptable conditions.”
Political analyst Souleymane Drabo downplayed the risk of voter unrest, saying the country’s politicians, including Cisse and Keita in past ballots, had a long history “of calling fraud at election time.”
“Everyone knows that the page has turned,” Drabo said, adding that the most immediate issue for most people was to prepare for Tabaski, the west African name for the upcoming Islamic festival of Eid-al Adha.
But Jonathan Sears, Sahel researcher at Centre Francopaix in Montreal, was more cautious.
“These elections have been a lost opportunity and Cisse’s insistence in interrogating the results underlines that,” he told AFP.
“The rejection is deeply concerning — if Cisse is speaking for many people, there is a possibility of it being socially disruptive.”
Keita faces high expectations to boost a 2015 peace accord between the government, government-allied groups and former Tuareg rebels.
The credibility of the deal — billed by Keita as the cornerstone of peace — has been battered by a state of emergency that heads into its fourth year in November.
France, which intervened to root out jihadists in northern Mali in 2013, still has 4,500 troops in the country.
They are deployed alongside the UN’s 15,000 peacekeepers and a regional G5 Sahel force, aimed at fighting the insurgents and restoring the authority of the state in the lawless north.
French President Emmanuel Macron congratulated Keita on his election victory and reiterated France’s commitment to the country’s security and economic development, his office said.
Income per capita has fallen since 2014, according to the World Bank, and nearly half of the 18 million population live in poverty.