Mali counts votes in referendum on new constitution

Malians started tallying ballots in a constitutional referendum proposed by the ruling junta

The picture of a T-shirt asking people to vote in the referendum (photo: DW)
The picture of a T-shirt asking people to vote in the referendum (photo: DW)


Malians voted Sunday in a referendum on a new constitution that would expand the role of the president and the military. Vote counting began Sunday evening and provisional results are expected by Tuesday.

The West African nation is ruled by military officers, who seized power in a 2020 coup, followed by another coup nine months later that removed the interim civilian government at the time.

Back then the prime minister and the president were to lead a government to steer the country towards new elections.

The ruling junta has said the proposed measures are meant to kickstart a gradual transition to civilian rule, with parliamentary elections to be held in October.

"I am convinced this referendum will pave the way for a new Mali, a strong Mali, an efficient Mali, a Mali in the service of the well-being of its population," military junta leader Assimi Goita said on Sunday.

A presidential election would follow in February 2024. Mali has been battling an Islamist insurgency and violence, with civilians bearing the brunt of the instability and conflict.

Election observer group MODELE reported a voter turnout at midday of only about 21% of eligible voters. The organization also reported the closing of dozens of polling stations due to security issues. The referendum also did not the entire northern region of Kidan.

What are Malians deciding?

Malians faced the choice of accepting or rejecting the draft constitution, seen as being a test for Goita.

The proposed changes would expand the role of the president and the military at the expense of the parliament.

The military would be entrusted with the "execution of the law" and the president would have more power over the prime minister and the Cabinet.

Goita has not said whether he would run for president. He oversaw the arrest of the nation's acting civilian leader and prime minister in 2021.

Ahead of the vote, Malians received text messages to persuade them to vote in favor of the proposed measures.

While opposition parties and groups have been critical of the new constitution, the vote is expected to go in favor of the military junta.

The Freedom House's flagship annual report 2023 labeled Mali as a country that was "not free."

The political situation in Mali

Mali built up its democratic institutions for about 20 years after transitioning away from authoritarian rule in the 1990s.

However, state fragility led to a coup in 2012 and insecurity followed in the years since. Over the years fighting has displaced hundreds of thousands of people.

On Saturday, Mali ordered foreign troops out of the country.

France, which stationed troops in 2013 to fight terrorism, withdrew troops from Mali in August 2022. Germany is due to pull back troops from Mali in the summer of 2024.

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