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Mali: Referendum on Constitutional Amendments Postponed

(Aug. 10, 2017) On June 2, 2017, the National Assembly of Mali approved a bill to amend the 1992 Constitution, as President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita earlier this year had announced would occur. (Antoine Le Goff, Mali: les enjeux d’une révision constitutionnelle qui suscite l’opposition [Mali: The Constitutional Amendments’ Issues Awakens the Opposition], LE MONDE (June 16, 2017).) The government had also announced that a referendum on the issue would take place on July 9, but on June 21 the Council of Ministers decided to delay the referendum to an unspecified later date. (Mali/Constitution: report sine die du referendum [Mali/Constitution: Referendum Postponed Indefinitely], AFRICA NEWS (June 22, 2017).)

The government presented the constitutional amendments as necessary to give effect to a 2015 peace accord, the Algiers Accords, between the Government of Mali and a coalition of separatist groups called the Coordination of Azawad Movements. (Agreement for Peace and Reconciliation in Mali Resulting from the Algiers Process (English machine translation), PAPER CHASE (last visited Aug. 7, 2017); Mali: des milliers de manifestants pour la révision de la Constitution [Mali: Thousands of Protesters for the Constitutional Amendment], AFRICA NEWS (June 29, 2017).)  The amendments will have four main consequences: they will broaden the President’s powers, create a Senate and a Court of Audit, create five new regions, and officially name the northern Tuareg separatist region “Azawad.”  (Mali: des milliers de manifestants pour la révision de la Constitution, supra; Le Goff, supra; Malians March Against Constitution Referendum, AL JAZEERA (July 16, 2017).)

These amendments are highly controversial and have been the cause of multiple protests and rallies carried out both by opponents and supporters. Six thousand supporters of the constitutional modifications met in Bamako, the capital of Mali, on June 28 to show that they favored the changes.  (Mali: des milliers de manifestants pour la révision de la Constitution, supra.).  The opponents of the amendments have protested several times, including most recently on July 15, 2017. (William Bayiha, Mali: Démonstration de force de l’opposition contre le referendum [Mali: Strong Protests from the Opponents to the Referendum], AFRICA NEWS (July 16, 2017).) They argue that Mali is not ready to hold a referendum due to the country’s political instability, particularly in the north, where the government does not have full control.  (Id.)  They point out that the current Constitution prohibits constitutional amendments when the territorial integrity of the country is threatened.  (Constitution du Mali du 27 février 1992 [Constitution of Mali of February 27, 1992], art. 118, L’Organisation internationale de la Francophonie website.) They also argue that the amendments will give too much power to the President. (Mali: les enjeux d’une révision constitutionnelle qui suscite l’opposition, supra.)

Prepared by Marie-Philippe Lavoie, Law Library intern, under the supervision of Nicolas Boring, Foreign Law Specialist