* Keita seen winning run-off against former finance minister Cisse
* Peace, reconciliation and reconstruction top winner's to-do list
By Daniel Flynn and Tiemoko Diallo
BAMAKO, Aug 11 (Reuters) - Malians vote on Sunday in the second round of a presidential poll with a tough-talking ex-prime minister the favourite to win an election meant to offer the country a fresh start after a coup and Islamist rebellion last year.
The victor in Sunday's ballot will oversee more than $4 billion in foreign aid promised to rebuild the West African nation, after France sent thousands of troops in January to break the grip of al Qaeda-linked rebels over its desert north.
He must also tackle deep-rooted corruption and forge a lasting peace with northern Tuaregs after decades of sporadic uprisings - issues that combined to trigger the ousting of former President Amadou Toumani Toure in a March 2012 coup and allowed Islamists to seize the northern two-thirds of Mali.
Some 21,000 polling stations are due to open at 0800 GMT across the landlocked nation from the lush forested south, home to some 90 percent of Mali's 16 million people, to desert cities of Timbuktu and Gao, where Islamists imposed harsh sharia law.
Former Prime Minister Ibrahima Boubacar Keita is the frontrunner after winning nearly 40 percent of the July 28 first-round vote with pledges to impose order and restore the honour of the once-proud nation, which had been regarded as a bulwark of stability in a turbulent region.
Twenty-two of the 25 losing first-round candidates have since thrown their weight behind Keita, 68, universally known by his initials IBK, a man who earned a reputation for firmness in crushing student protests and strikes when he served as prime minister in the 1990s.
His rival Soumaila Cisse, 63, a technocrat from northern Mali who headed the West African monetary union (UEMOA), took 19 percent of the first round vote with pledges to improve education, create jobs and reform the army.
"I will vote for IBK," said Tidjane Sylla, 28, a trader in the bustling central market of the riverside capital Bamako, which is a stronghold of support for Keita. "He is a man of his word. When he says no, it means no."
RESULTS DUE MID-WEEK
Official results are expected towards the middle of next week as returns stream in from across a country twice the size of France. Though Africa's third largest gold producer, Mali remains one of the world's poorest and least developed nations.
Former colonial power France has pushed for quick elections as it draws down its 3,000 troops and hands responsibility for security to a 12,600-strong U.N. peacekeeping mission gradually deploying.
Some observers had warned that rushing to elections might lead to problems but EU election observers gave the first round a clean bill of health. Some 49 percent of the 6.8 million registered voters cast a ballot - a record for Mali.
Voting cards and ballots have also been distributed in camps in neighbouring Mauritania, Burkina Faso and Niger, home to some 170,000 refugees from the Malian crisis.
Many in Mali hope that the election can bring change to a system of 'consensus politics' under which Toure seduced political opponents with government positions but failed to undertake tough reforms, discrediting his government in the eyes of voters.
"I think we will see a change," said Chris Fomunyoh, senior associate for Africa at the National Democratic Institute in Washington. "The personality differences between the candidates are so great that whoever loses will create a real opposition."
Keita has captured the popular mood by avoiding outspoken criticism of the coup leaders who toppled Toure, earning the tacit blessing of the military. He has also successfully courted Mali's powerful Islamic clerics, some of whom have endorsed him.
Critics say Cisse, who condemned the coup, is supporting the corrupt political class, but he rejects the claim, saying he is a defender of democracy.
After challenging the result of the July 28 election, alleging fraud, he vowed to accept the final outcome of the second round.
(Editing by David Lewis and Sonya Hepinstall)