French Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault on Monday declared elections in Mali a "great success" for France, which sent troops to the African nation this year to dislodge Islamist groups.

Mali voted on Sunday for a new president in the first election since a military coup in March 2012 helped plunge the country into chaos.

"Congratulations are in order that the Mali elections went off well...For France, it is a great success," Ayrault said during a visit to Malaysia.

He said the elections and the French role in Mali had burnished France's image worldwide.

"France in no way wanted to do anything linked to the past or to militarism or paternalism but on the contrary to give Africa and in this case Mali every chance to become a democratic independent nation, which can ensure its own development," he said.

Official results have yet to be announced. French President Francois Hollande welcomed the smooth running of the vote, "marked by a good turnout and an absence of any major incident".

The military mutiny in March last year toppled democratically elected president Amadou Toumani Toure.

The ensuing confusion precipitated the fall of northern Mali to Islamist militants linked to Al-Qaeda, but a military intervention launched in January by French and African troops chased the rebels from the region's main cities.

A UN peacekeeping force was deployed to Mali earlier this month. The deployment allows France to start withdrawing most of its 4,500 troops.