BAMAKO Mali's top court on Wednesday confirmed that former prime minister Ibrahim Boubacar Keita won a July 28 presidential vote but fell short of an outright majority, meaning he will face ex-finance minister Soumaila Cisse in a runoff on Sunday.
The election is meant to turn the page on a March 2012 coup that toppled President Amadou Toumani Toure and allowed Islamist fighters to seize the West African nation's desert north. French forces intervened in January to scatter the al Qaeda-linked rebels.
The Constitutional Court rejected complaints of irregularities from Cisse and other candidates. It said that the final results from the first round gave Keita 39.79 percent of votes cast, well ahead of Cisse's 19.70 percent.
"The two candidates who won the most votes in the first round are Mr Ibrahim Boubacar Keita and Mr Soumaila Cisse," the court's head, Amadi Tamba Camara, said. "Only these two candidates...can stand in the second round on August 11."
Keita, who is running on a nationalist pledge to restore Mali's dignity, is the favorite to win Sunday's race, having secured the endorsement of some 20 other candidates and the backing of influential Muslim leaders.
Whoever wins the vote will face the complex task of negotiating with Tuareg separatists in northern Mali. A June ceasefire deal committed the government to talks within two months of taking office, though many in populous southern Mali are opposed to greater autonomy for the north and resent the Tuareg uprising.
The court's announcement, which meant that campaigning can officially begin for Sunday's vote, was greeted with disappointment by Cisse's camp.
It had alleged that voting irregularities and, in some cases, fraud had compromised the result but the court dismissed its complaints.
"We acknowledge the constitutional court's decision with regret," said Amadou Koita, a spokesman for Cisse's camp. "We believe that our concerns will be taken into account and voting will take place without fraud."
Foreign observer missions broadly praised the July 28 vote, dispelling fears that it had been hastily organized and Mali was not properly prepared.
Turnout was revised down slightly to 48.98 percent, but remained a record. Participation in previous elections had never topped 40 percent.
(Reporting by Adama Diarra; Writing by Joe Bavier; Editing by David Lewis)