Thousands of Malians took to the streets on Saturday to protest against a planned referendum on constitutional changes that would give extra powers to President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita, create new regions and recognise the Tuareg’s ethnic homeland.
Mali’s government has delayed the vote, which was originally planned for last week, but still plans to go ahead with it this year. Activists are unsettled by provisions that would enable the president to nominate a quarter of the Senate and remove the prime minister at will.
I’ve been following the referendum here on the blog – the opposition and protests it evoked last month, the decision to delay it, and the new court order to rewrite it and remove certain ambiguities. The latest protests underscore two things – the way in which the referendum fight is becoming a dress rehearsal for next year’s presidential election, and the current of opposition against the idea of going much further in the direction of giving the north a special status.
For a government, pro-referendum perspective, it’s worth reading this interview (French) with Minister of Justice Mamadou Ismaël Konaté. In one exchange, he gives three reasons for supporting the referendum. Here are two (the third has to do with public accounts and decentralization):
First of all, this Constitution is running out of steam and it showed obvious signs of “non-performance” when, after the overthrow of the regime in 2012, it was not capable to make a clear distinction between the interim period and that of transition…Next, the two-term presidential limit was not very precise with regard to the possibility for a president of the Republic, having undertaken two consecutive terms, or even alternating ones, to come back, at a later time, to ask for a third term.
I don’t know the mind of the opposition, but I doubt they will be swayed by such arguments – the minister’s points do not touch on the most hotly contested issues, namely those having to do with presidential powers, the creation of a senate, and autonomy for the north. The minister goes on to make a case that the referendum can and should be held as a democratic exercise, and that there is something anti-democratic in the opposition’s choice of protests, sit-ins at the Constitutional Court, etc. I doubt the opposition would be swayed by such arguments either – they might respond that such actions are part of democracy writ large, part of the exercise of free assembly and protest. At the same time, one could read the opposition’s protests as a signal that they fear they would/will lose the vote, once it is held, and so they are seeking to block it from ever coming to a vote.