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Mali’s military rulers hold constitutional referendum | News

The junta has promised to restore civilian rule, but opponents argue the changes would give the president too much power.

Malians are due to hold a referendum on constitutional changes on Sunday, which military rulers and regional powers say will pave the way for elections and a return to civilian rule.

The junta, which seized power in coups in 2020 and 2021, has promised to hold referendums as part of a transition to democracy under pressure from the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS).

Voting opened at 08:00 GMT and results are expected within 72 hours. Presidential elections are scheduled for February 2024.

Voter turnout is expected to be low in the country of 21 million people because of the armed conflict.

Al Jazeera’s Nicholas Harque said that while around eight million Malians are eligible to vote today, “many of them will not be able to because large tracts of land in the north-central part of the country are in the hands of Al Qaeda and ISIL. linked armed group [ISIS]”.

Haq reported from the capital Bamako that in the northern city of Kidal, no vote was held and in Timbuktu armed groups threatened to attack polling stations.

However, he added that in Bamoko there was “an element of defiance” and a palpable sense that “Mali people really want their voices heard and really want to push this referendum and constitution change.”

Some of the changes in the constitution drafted by the committee are controversial, with supporters saying they would strengthen fragile political institutions and opponents saying they would give the president too much power.

But regional bodies and the United Nations see the referendum as an important test of the military’s willingness to persevere with the transition and hold on to the democratic process across the country, especially as violent religious groups intensify their attacks.

“Through this project, we are betting on the future of our country, the restoration of authority and the renewed trust between institutions and citizens,” interim President Asimi Goita said in a televised address on Friday.

Goita sits at the table, wearing a military uniform and a cuckold.
Colonel Assimi Goita represents Mali’s military junta at the ECOWAS consultation meeting in Accra, Ghana, September 15, 2020 [Francis Kokoroko/Reuters]

“Now is the time to confirm our commitment to the new Mali,” added Goita, who wore his signature beret and military uniform.

Al Jazeera’s Haq said it was a moment 30 years in the making, adding that “the leaders of the junta in Mali have succeeded, while the previously elected president failed to organize the vote and organize around it.” The referendum conversation.”

He said the vote was about “creating legitimacy and sovereignty for millions of people who feel torn apart by violence in a country that has been under attack for almost a decade”.

The draft includes updates proposed in past failed efforts to revise the constitution, which supporters hope will strengthen democracy and resolve divisions, including the creation of a second parliamentary chamber to improve representation across Mali.

The proposed creation of an independent national expenditure audit court would bring Mali into line with directives from the West African Economic and Monetary Union (also known by its French acronym UEMOA) starting in 2000.

But some opposition parties, pro-democracy groups and activists who voted against said unelected authorities, such as the military, were not empowered to oversee such a major constitutional change.

They also said the proposed constitution would delegate too much power to the president, including the legislative process.

“I support changing the constitution, but not this referendum. The legality of the actors, the process … I think we can do better,” lawyer Fousseini Ag Yehia told Reuters in the capital Bamako on Saturday.

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