Cross-posted from GlobalPost.
BAMAKO, Mali — Malian voters will head to the polls on Sunday in a presidential election meant to press the restart button on what was until last year considered a democratic model in West Africa.
Twenty-seven candidates are vying to lead the country out of its darkest chapter in recent memory. A coup d’état in March 2012 saw the country’s long-serving president deposed five weeks before elections set to choose his successor, as the country’s vast north fell to Al Qaeda-linked rebels.
Only an eleventh-hour intervention by former colonial power France in January spared the rest of the country a similar fate.
In a frantic three-week campaign period, candidates have crisscrossed the country, staging rallies before thousands of supporters.
The capital Bamako is saturated with billboards and flyers bearing the candidates’ faces and slogans. The interim government declared Friday a national holiday to boost distribution rates of the biometric identification, or NINA, cards required to vote.
But less than 24 hours before polls open Sunday morning, the prospects of a credible and inclusive election remain in question.
The timing of the election has been fast-tracked under intense pressure from international donors, namely France. About $4 billion of aid money is blocked until an elected government takes power.
The race to organize the poll has produced countless logistical headaches. The government only started distributing NINA cards to Mali’s more than 6.8 million registered voters a month ago.
Over 500,000 Malians remain displaced after the turmoil in the north — either internally or abroad — according to the latest UN figures. Reports suggest that only a tiny fraction of them will be able to vote.
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