Mali’s military junta holds referendum on new constitution that it calls a step toward new elections

Malian voters cast ballots on a new draft constitution Sunday in a referendum that the country’s coup leader says will pave the way toward holding new elections in 2024, but that critics have called a delaying tactic for him to extend his time in power.

In a message broadcast on state television on the eve of the vote, Col. Assimi Goita told Malians that the proposed draft constitution “provides for a better-organized executive power, while maintaining the necessary balance with the legislative power.”

However, Imam Mahmoud Dicko, an opponent of the military junta, invited his supporters to a large hall in Bamako on Friday to ask them to vote against it.

“In our country today, can we speak of justice, democracy, human rights, the rule of law? What kind of democracy are we talking about? Where is it? What rule of law is there in a country where justice is used by the military to repress people? That’s the reality of this country today,” said Dicko, a one-time junta supporter who led the movement calling for the departure of democratically elected president Ibrahim Boubacar Keita before he was ousted in 2020.

Malians who voted Sunday said they hoped the constitution’s approval would be a step in the right direction for a country mired by Islamic extremist violence for a decade.

“I voted so that this new constitution would bring us peace and stability,” said Moctar Diallo, a retired driver in Kalasoribougou. “We are in a situation where only the new decisions can bring us peace.”

The proposed draft constitution creates a two-chamber parliament, the National Assembly and the Senate; until now the country has only had a National Assembly. The draft also consolidates the position of the President of Mali, a move that has drawn much political debate.

The current constitution, dating from 1992, states that “the government determines and conducts the policy of the nation.” In the new constitution, the government “conducts the policy of the nation determined by the president.”

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