BAMAKO, Mali (AP) -- The head of Mali's electoral body voiced doubts Friday over the feasibility of holding a much-anticipated presidential poll in July as planned even as political parties rushed to meet the deadline for submitting their candidates.
Mamadou Diamoutene, president of the National Independent Election Commission, said there are numerous challenges that remain to be resolved.
"The deadline for candidates to file expires today at midnight. And yet there are many obstacles for us to overcome. I have said it before and I will say it now: It will be very difficult to stick to the date of July 28," he told The Associated Press on Friday.
The international community has put enormous pressure on Mali to hold the election and to stick to the July date, in an attempt to return the country to constitutional rule after a military coup plunged the country into chaos in March 2012.
The date is especially important to former colonizer France, which sent in thousands of troops to help Mali take back its northern half. Al-Qaida-linked insurgents took advantage of the post-coup chaos to seize an enormous swathe of territory and impose Shariah rule. Afraid of being dragged into a protracted conflict, France is eager to hand over responsibility for security to a legitimately elected government.
Among the many challenges is the fact that electoral ID cards only began being distributed Friday, one month before the scheduled poll. Mali is a nation twice the size of France, and Mali's vast north is cut off from the rest of the country, making it unlikely that the cards will be able to be distributed to all precincts in time. The cards are also missing key information such as voters' polling locations.
Finally, hundreds of thousands of Malians were displaced by the fighting and it's unclear how those not currently living in the place where they registered to vote will be able to receive the card.
"Many voters are displaced and we can't distribute cards to 6.9 million voters in just one month," he said.
Another significant issue is the continuing question mark hanging over the city of Kidal, the northern-most provincial capital of Mali, which is the only part of the country still controlled by rebels. An accord signed earlier this month between the fighters and the Malian government was supposed to pave the way for the Malian military to return to Kidal, but more than a week since the signing, there seems to be no progress in that direction.
"The status of Kidal is still up in the air. Not a single official (from Mali) has been able to go to this region in order to start doing the word of the electoral commission," said Diamoutene.
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