BAMAKO Mali's largest political party, Adema-PASJ, has chosen Dramane Dembele, a 46-year-old mining engineer, as its candidate in a July presidential election aimed at ending a tumultuous political transition in the West African nation.
Once an example of democracy in what is known as West Africa's "coup belt", Mali has been mired in turmoil since March 2012, prompted by a Tuareg rebellion, an occupation of the north of the country by Islamic militants and a military coup.
Dembele was chosen following a meeting of the party's executive committee late on Wednesday, a senior party official told journalists.
The party's current leader and Mali's interim president, Dioncounda Traore, is prevented from contesting the poll following a deal struck with coup leaders that allows him to lead the country during the transition.
Dembele will be up against about a dozen other candidates including former prime minister Ibrahim Boubacar Keita and ex-finance minister Soumaila Cisse, but he will be able to count on Adema-PASJ's popularity.
The party controls 54 seats in the country's 160-seat national assembly following the last election in 2007.
France, which led a lightning intervention to drive out the Islamists who had occupied northern Mali, has pushed for the election to complete Mali's transition to democracy.
But there are widespread concerns over the organization of credible elections following continued Islamist rebel attacks in northern Mali and the lack of an effective government presence in many areas.
(Reporting by Adama Diarra; Writing by Bate Felix; Editing by Paul Simao)