Malians have been digesting the news that there’s finally to be a referendum on whether to update their constitution on June 18th. It’s supposed to move the vast country towards civilian rule after a military junta seized power in 2020.
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The referendum, in which voters can choose to either accept or reject a draft already contested by political opponents, was due to have taken place in March but was postponed. The draft would considerably strengthen the power of the president. In it, the head of state, rather than the government “determines the policy of the nation,” appoints the prime minister and ministers, and has the right to terminate their functions, according to the proposal. Government spokesman Colonel Abdoulaye Maïga made the announcement on state TV on Friday.
Armed movements who fought for independence for Mali’s north but agreed to a peace deal in 2015 say the draft constitution doesn’t take into account the provisions of the peace agreement. Mali has been ruled by the military junta since a 2020 coup against an elected president, Ibrahim Boubacar Keita. It has faced destabilising attacks by armed extremist groups linked to al-Qaida and the Islamic State group since 2013.
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In 2021, France and its European partners engaged in the fight against extremists in Mali’s north withdrew from the country after the junta brought in mercenaries from Russia’s Wagner Group. Mali’s vast size and skeletal road network makes staging a referendum very challenging, even without the insurgencies in the north.