BAMAKO, Mali (AP) — Mali's government announced on Monday that much-anticipated presidential elections will be held July 28, in a communique that set the dates for the campaign period and a runoff election. The move suggests that the West African country is serious about holding the ballot, despite the fact that the capital of one of the country's northern provinces remains under the control of a rebel group.
The ballot would be the first since a coup in March 2012 ousted Mali's democratically elected president just months before he was due to step down at the end of his final term in office. The coup plunged the country into chaos, creating an opening which allowed extremist groups allied with al-Qaida to seize Mali's northern half.
Besides the crucial city of Kidal, which is now under the de facto rule of the rebel National Movement for the Liberation of the Azawad, numerous towns and villages are still not fully under the government's control, making it unclear how they will carry out the vote. In addition, hundreds of thousands of Malians have been displaced by the fighting and are living in refugee camps in the neighboring nations of Mauritania, Niger, Algeria and Burkina Faso, a further logistical challenge for election organizers.
France, which sent more than 4,000 troops to Mali in January to try to free the north, has been aggressively pushing for a quick election in the hopes of restoring the country's constitutional rule. France has announced that it will draw down to 1,000 soldiers before the end of the year. It is looking to hand over security to the Malian government and to a soon-to-be created United Nations peacekeeping force.
Monday's statement by the transitional government said the campaign for president will begin at midnight on July 7 and end at midnight on July 26. If no candidate wins an absolute majority, a runoff will be held Aug. 11.