Malians headed to the polls Sunday for a long-delayed parliamentary election, less than a day after the country reported its first death from coronavirus.
Also overshadowing the election was the kidnapping of the leading opposition figure of the West African country on Wednesday. Soumaila Cisse is believed to be in the hands of jihadists.
Security concerns have seen the vote postponed several times since 2018. The war-torn country has over 200,000 displaced people, none of whom are expected to be able to vote. "No mechanism has been established" for them to participate in the election, one government official told a news agency.
Medical emergency declared
Mali reported its first COVID-19 case on Wednesday, with many observers and authorities concerned that an outbreak could wreak havoc in the impoverished nation of 19 million.
The country has now declared a medical emergency despite the relatively low number of cases so far. As of Saturday, 18 cases have been reported, with the first death confirmed hours before polls opened.
Much of Mali's territory lies outside of state control, meaning that widespread implementation of preventative measures could be difficult or impossible. Large parts of the north of the country are controlled by an al-Qaeda-aligned jihadist group.
Kidnapped politician's party urges 'massive participation'
Despite the Cisse's kidnapping, the country's main opposition party has still called for "massive participation" in the election, agreeing with the president that another delay would not be good.
"In these difficult times our country is going through, more than ever, the party's activists are resolutely urged to redouble their efforts for massive participation in the March 29, 2020 elections," they said Saturday.
But amid coronavirus fears, violence and poverty, large swathes of the population are not expected to pay much attention to the election.
"The population generally doesn't trust the state," Baba Dakono from the Institute for Security Studies told DW earlier in the week, describing general apathy even among those voters who were able to vote.
"The people are trying to survive," former Prime Minister Moussa Mara said. "Putting food on the table is their main worry."
President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita's Rally for Mali party won a substantial majority in 2013, when the last election took place. The second round of 2020's election is expected to be held on April 19.