Mali’s constitution was revised in a referendum on Friday, with an overwhelming 97 percent of voters supporting the changes. This marks a significant stride towards the ruling junta’s objective of reinstating civilian rule. The amended constitution grants more power to the president, fueling speculation about Colonel Assimi Goita, the junta’s leader, potentially running for president.
The revisions underscore the importance of the armed forces and prioritize “sovereignty,” key principles for the ruling junta since seizing power in 2020. However, the voting process encountered obstacles in towns, particularly in the central and northern regions, due to fears of jihadist attacks and political disagreements.
Since the military coup in August 2020, Mali has been under military governance. Colonel Goita, initially appointed as civilian interim president, later staged a second coup in 2021 and assumed the presidency himself. Under pressure from the West African ECOWAS bloc, Goita has committed to reinstating civilian rule by March 2024 after implementing crucial institutional reforms.
Until now, the nation has only had a National Assembly; the proposed draft constitution establishes a two-chamber parliament, the National Assembly and the Senate. Also, the president’s role will now encompass national policy decisions, shifting from the previous authority held by the cabinet under the 1992 constitution. The government will be accountable to the president, who will have the power to appoint and dismiss the prime minister and cabinet members. The reforms also include strengthening financial oversight, granting amnesty to individuals involved in previous coups, and requiring income disclosure by MPs and senators to combat corruption. However, critics argue that the draft constitution primarily serves to consolidate the junta’s power rather than addressing the nation’s issues. Nevertheless, the ruling elite defends the reforms as vital for a comprehensive transformation in Mali.
In the troubled northern region of Mali, armed groups disrupted the referendum and were accused of widespread ballot stuffing in areas where voting took place. Prominent religious figures, including Imam Mahmoud Dicko, criticized the new constitution for retaining Mali’s secular state status.
Simultaneously, the UN’s MINUSMA peacekeeping mission in Mali faced contention regarding its future. The junta called for an immediate withdrawal of the 15,000-person MINUSMA force, claiming its failure to provide security. MINUSMA’s mandate expires on June 30. Additionally, strained relations between the ruling military and France, Mali’s long-standing ally, emerged after forging closer ties with Russia and deploying Russian paramilitaries.
Overall, the referendum’s outcome represents a significant step towards establishing civilian authority in Mali. However, concerns persist regarding the motives behind the constitutional amendments and ongoing challenges, such as security threats and diplomatic issues.