Polls have opened in the run-off presidential election of the West African nation of Mali with voters having to decide between incumbent Ibrahim Boubacar Keita and challenger Soumaila Cisse.

A woman casts her ballot paper at a polling station during a presidential run-off election in Bamako, Mali.
A woman casts her ballot paper at a polling station during a presidential run-off election in Bamako, Mali. ( Luc Gnago / Reuters )

Malians started voting on Sunday in a run-off election and President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita is favourite to beat Soumaila Cisse even though ethnic and militant violence has surged during his tenure.

Keita took 41 percent of the vote in last month's first round against nearly 18 percent for Cisse, a former finance minister and the main opposition leader.

Dramane Camara, 31, was the first to vote at one polling station in a school in the capital Bamako.

"I voted without problem, I came to fulfill my duty as a citizen," Camara said. "I expect the new president to solve the problem of the North, which is peace. Because the return of peace means the return of NGOs, investors, so creating jobs."

The poll was marred by armed attacks and other security incidents that disrupted about a fifth of polling places and the threat of violence could again dampen turnout on Sunday.

The chaotic first round was a reminder that militants, some linked to al Qaeda and Daesh, have regrouped since a French intervention in 2013 and are now expanding their influence across the desert north and into the fertile centre.

TRT World's Philip Owira reports

Civil society website Malilink recorded 932 attacks in the first half of 2018, almost double that for all of 2017 and triple 2015. Their activities in Mali and its Sahel neighbours have unnerved Western powers like France and the United States who have deployed thousands of troops across the region.

Militants are also stoking inter-communal conflict, mostly between herders and pastoralists. Tit-for-tat killings along ethnic lines have claimed hundreds of civilian lives this year, including at least 11 last week in the central Mopti region.

Cisse, 68, blames Keita, 73, for the violence and accuses his government of rampant corruption and voting fraud in July.

"Continuing on the path followed by those who had the heavy responsibility to preside over the destiny of our country would lead us closer to chaos and the abyss," Cisse warned at his final campaign rally on Friday.

Keita rejects Cisse's charges and the constitutional court upheld the first round results.

Keita's better-than-expected first-round showing and Cisse's failure to win endorsements from the third and fourth-place finishers augur well for the incumbent. Keita beat Cisse in a 2013 run-off and is seeking a second five-year term.

At his final rally in the capital Bamako on Friday, Keita struck a confident tone.

People stand in line as they wait outside a polling station before the polls open during a presidential run-off election in Bamako, Mali.
People stand in line as they wait outside a polling station before the polls open during a presidential run-off election in Bamako, Mali. ( Reuters )

"Some people were sceptical that these elections could take place. Some called on me to withdraw," he said above the din of his supporters' vuvuzelas. "Let them understand that we had the capacity to organise credible elections and we have done so."

Despite the militant threat, Malian polls have generally gone peacefully without the post-election violence common to many countries in the region. 

Source: TRTWorld and agencies