The deputy chairman of the African Union (AU) says the group's election observer mission has arrived in Mali for the West African nation's presidential vote on Sunday.
Erastus Mwencha also says the AU has partnered with the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) to help Mali's interim government and support the country's efforts to return to constitutional rule.
Some Malians, including the chairman of the electoral commission, expressed concern about Sunday's vote because of rising tension despite a recent peace agreement signed by the government and the rebels.
"ECOWAS with the African Union and a number of other stakeholders and international partners have come to the conclusion that let's move ahead with the elections," said Mwencha. "Because you have a situation that you want to have a legitimate partner that would be able to get Mali back to normalcy."
Backed by the United Nations and ECOWAS, Burundi's former president, Pierre Buyoya, was appointed to be the AU High Representative for Mali and Head of the African‐led International Support Mission in Mali (AFISMA). Mwencha says Mr. Buyoya has been coordinating efforts with various groups in Mali in the run-up to the vote.
"We are on the ground, we have given the necessary support that we could and so we hope that as we are now in the final stages of the election, it would be conducted in an atmosphere that allows the people of Mali to express themselves," said Mwencha.
Last week, gunmen released election workers who were distributing voter identification materials in preparation for the vote. Their capture and subsequent release sparked worry that a peaceful election cannot be guaranteed. Mwencha said AFISMA is working with Mali's security agencies as well as the candidates to ensure peaceful balloting.
"Our team on the ground has had to make sure that they interact with the various politicians to ensure that they give their commitment that they conduct themselves in a peaceful manner, and campaign on issues," said Mwencha.
He expressed hope that the candidates will accept the election results.
"The confidence that we have word that the various candidates have pledged themselves, [and] what we hope for is, of course, that the election body would be able to organize the elections in such a manner that all candidates would be satisfied," said Mwencha. "All the political parties are being held accountable by the people to commit themselves to accept the election results."
Mwencha says the election provides good prospects that the people of Mali can live in peace following the overthrow of the former government and the subsequent takeover by Islamic militants in parts of the country's north.
"We see it as an opportunity that you now have partners that would be able to move the peace and the political process forward." Mwencha said. "And that is why it is extremely important that at the end of the day the parties should accept whoever is chosen because that would be the first step in uniting the country."