Bamako The candidate of Mali's largest political party, who came third in the first round of the country's presidential election, broke ranks with his own party on Saturday and said he will back former prime minister Ibrahim Boubacar Keita in a run-off.
Dramane Dembele's move goes against his Adema-PASJ party's plans and deals a blow to the anti-junta coalition that had formed around former Finance Minister Soumaila Cisse, who will be Keita's contender in the August 11 second round.
Keita - seen as close to leaders of the coup last year that triggered Mali's current crisis - secured 39 percent of the first round votes, well ahead of Cisse's 19 percent. Dembele, who scored 9.5 percent, and fourth-placed candidate Modibo Sidibe had been expected to back Cisse.
"I'm making a solemn appeal to all Adema-PASJ supporters and my compatriots who voted for me to vote for Ibrahim Boubacar Keita in the second round of the presidential election," Dembele told a news conference in Bamako.
He said that he felt he had been "betrayed" by some in the party by the fact that Adema could not muster more than 10 percent of the first-round vote although it is the biggest bloc in parliament.
His campaign director, Harouna Cisse, told Reuters earlier that Dembele's decision had led to a split within the party and acting president Ibrahima N'Diaye was against the decision.
The July 20 first round was the first since the March 2012 coup led to the occupation of Mali's north by separatist and Islamist rebels.
French forces intervened in January to defeat the al Qaeda-linked Islamists, whose threats to disrupt the poll did not materialize.
(Reporting by Tiemoko Diallo and Adama Diarra; Writing by Bate Felix; Editing by Sonya Hepinstall)