Malians go to the polls on Sunday to pass judgment on the governing junta’s constitution, which has fueled speculation that the country’s strongman ruler will seek election.
The vote is the first organized by the military since it seized power in August 2020 of a country gripped for years by a political, security and economic crisis.
Those problems remain largely unresolved, meaning the vote could be disrupted.
It is a checkpoint on the road to a return of civilian rule in March 2024, under commitments made by the military itself.
But less than nine months before the deadline, Mali has no clarity on the future role of the military, including junta leader Colonel Assimi Goita.
Malians will vote on the draft constitution from 0800 GMT on Sunday, with green ballots for the “yes” vote and red for “no”.
The results are expected within 72 hours.
The authorities have invested heavily in the reform.
It purports to fix the country’s current constitution, enacted in 1992 and often blamed for Mali’s problems.
The large Sahel nation faces jihadist violence, poverty, derelict infrastructure and decaying schools.
If approved, the new constitution would strengthen the position of the military, emphasizing “sovereignty”, the junta’s mantra since coming to power and its subsequent break with the former colonial power France.
– Presidential power boost –
Above all, it strengthens the powers of the president, while also providing for an amnesty for those who carried out coups before it was enacted.
It has fueled persistent speculation that Goita will run for president, despite promises by the military rulers that he will not stand.
The reform has drawn wide-ranging opposition, from former rebels and imams to political opponents.
Influential religious organizations oppose the continuation of secularism enshrined in the current constitution.
In the north, former rebels who, unlike the jihadists, signed a major peace deal with the state also reject it.
Some political elites are unhappy with the strengthening of the executive around the president.
Sidi Toure, spokesman for the Party for National Rebirth (Parena), described a “personalisation of power, a personality cult”.
“If a new constitution is put in place, it must redress these excesses, balance the powers instead of concentrating them in the hands of the president alone.”
“The draft constitution was made by the Malians,” the junta leader said at a campaign rally Tuesday, adding that the text was “the result of work by consensus”.
– Security concerns –
Beyond the legitimacy of the text, the issue of the vote itself is at stake.
Mali’s future is uncertain with no clarity on the future role of the military, including junta leader Colonel Assimi Goita
Voters could face jihadist violence in the north and center, where groups continue to carry out bloody attacks on civilians and the military.
“Mali has more urgent challenges, we must rally Malians for the war against terrorism, for the war against poverty,” Toure said.
One researcher, who like many others spoke on condition of anonymity, argued the old constitution was satisfactory.
“The problem with the 1992 constitution is that it was never really applied… it cannot be the cause of the crisis,” the researcher said.
Turnout is widely expected to be low.
“Generally, Malians do not vote. Since 1992, turnout has rarely exceeded 30 percent,” said political scientist Abdoul Sogodogo.
Observers say a vote for “yes” is almost certain.
“Malians say that presidents from democratic regimes did not necessarily shine. Corruption has reached a certain level. People want to see something else,” said Brema Ely Dicko, a sociologist at Bamako University.
Supporters of the reform are betting on the strong popularity of Goita and the so-called transitional authorities.
“Some actors present this referendum as support for the transition,” said Sogodogo, the political scientist.
“That means that the debate on the content is obscured.”
©️ Agence France-Presse