On Sunday, June 18, about 8.4 million Malians will vote in a referendum on a new constitution, marking the first time since the military junta took over the country three years ago that Malians will vote on the future of their country in crisis. The poll is contested by an assorted opposition and compromised by persisting insecurity in several regions. The results are expected within 72 hours. Here are the main issues at play.
Strengthening presidential powers
Among the proposed changes to the 1992 constitution, the voters will decide whether or not to accept an expansion of the president’s powers, given the ongoing jihadist expansion and the security, political, economic, and humanitarian crisis in the country. The proposed constitution also provides for amnesty for the perpetrators of previous coups before its promulgation, fueling continuing speculation about potential presidential candidacy by Colonel Assimi Goita.
Although the victory of the “yes” seems assured, this acceptance is one of the stakes of the consultation. Opponents of the project describe it as tailor-made to keep the military in power beyond the presidential elections planned for February 2024, despite their commitment to relinquish power to civilians.
Measuring Assimi Goita's popularity
In an environment made difficult to decipher by opacity and restrictions on expression, the vote could deliver indications, to be taken with caution, about the population's support for the junta and its leader, the popularly reputed Assimi Goita, as well as the domestic situation.
The military, who took power by force in 2020 and exercise it without sharing, claim a retreat of jihadists on the ground. The vote takes place less than 48 hours after Bamako's dramatic dismissal of the UN mission after ten years of presence. The authorities believe that the mission has failed and that Mali can assume its security “on its own.”
A scrutinized poll
The turnout, traditionally low, and the conditions of the poll will be scrutinized. Ongoing insecurity is likely to prohibit voting in extensive areas. Where it will take place, the polling stations remain exposed to attacks.
In the north of the country, in the towns they control, former rebels who have signed a fragile peace agreement should prevent the vote on a proposal they say does not include the agreement they signed in 2015. They are one of the opposition’s components to the project that, while heterogeneous, has managed to make itself heard.
In a final speech on Friday, Colonel Goita urged his compatriots to vote "massively" for the project, which he presented as a guarantee of a "strong state," "democratic governance," and a "renewed confidence" of Malians in the authorities.