In a first electoral test for the reigning junta, Malians went to the polls on Sunday to decide whether to support a new constitution. However, several districts were barred from voting due to political unrest and worries of jihadist threats.
The West African nation has been governed by the military since a coup in August 2020, but Colonel Assimi Goita, a 40-year-old strongman leader, has sworn to restore civilian authority in 2024.
There are 8.4 million eligible voters in the referendum on the new text, which has fueled rumors that Goita will run for office.
Voters went to voting places in the capital, Bamako, and he was among the first to cast his ballot, as an AFP correspondent witnessed.
“This day is historic. This vote will alter a lot of things… For a new Mali, that is why I voted “yes,” according to employee Boulan Barro.
Some areas of the country, like the town of Kidal, a stronghold of former rebels, are not holding the vote because of the threat of terrorist assaults, including the center and northern regions.
No significant incident was reported despite worries.
There were only a few voting-related difficulties in the polling places where a team of observers from civil society organizations supported by the European Union were stationed.
Voting was restricted to the region’s capital in Menaka because of security concerns, according to local elected authorities. Menaka is a northern region battling insurgents affiliated with the Islamic State group.
The junta’s ability to restore order and inspire public support for its goals will be judged by the turnout, which is normally low in the 21 million-person nation.
The new constitution has been promoted by the junta as the solution to Mali’s incapacity to deal with its numerous challenges.
Mali’s current problems started in 2012 when separatist insurgents in the north, who had previously been marginalized by the southern government, teamed up with Islamists with ties to Al-Qaeda to seize significant tracts of land.
Attacks have continued despite France’s intervention, and Bamako has subsequently dissolved its ties with Paris in favor of Russia. France, a former colonial power, intervened and assisted in driving back the Islamists.
Disputed parliamentary elections were held in March 2020, and the government’s inability to control the insurgency, corruption, and economic crises was then the target of large-scale protests that culminated in a coup.
After appointing an interim leader, Goita removed him in a second coup in 2021 and took over as president.
Now, questions are being raised about his promise to leave office following the elections scheduled for next year.
The country’s UN peacekeeping force, a key and contentious player in an emergency of security that has claimed the lives of nearly 200 peacekeepers in the last ten years, was called to leave the country immediately by the junta on Friday.
A more Powerful Presidency
The president’s authority to choose and dismiss the prime minister and members of the cabinet would be strengthened by the new constitution.
Unlike the 1992 document that it is now based on, the president will be the government’s ultimate authority.
In an effort to combat corruption, it will also provide amnesty to individuals responsible for previous coups, improve the oversight of public funds, and require MPs and senators to disclose their holdings.
On condition of anonymity, a legislator claimed that some military members were expecting a new constitution would “reset the clock” and reverse a previous agreement that Goita would not participate in the 2024 election.
People desire different things.
According to observers, a “yes” vote is almost certain.
Malians assert that democratically elected leaders did not always perform well. A certain level of corruption has been attained. People want to see something different, according to Brema Ely Dicko, a sociologist at Bamako University.
But the change has encountered loud criticism from ex-rebels, imams, and other political parties.
The continuation of the secularism established in the current constitution is opposed by powerful religious organizations.
Mariam Diop, 30, voted “no” because she felt that the concerns of the Muslim faith weren’t given any consideration.
Makan Mary, a member of the Yelema party, stated that Mali needs a system that is based on institutions rather than a man.
The old constitution, according to one scholar who, like many others, spoke on the condition of anonymity.
“The 1992 Constitution’s main flaw is that it was never fully put into practice… According to the scholar, it cannot be the root of the situation.