Tag Archives: Mali

Mali’s controversial constitutional referendum

Mali was scheduled to hold a referendum on constitutional reform on July 9th. On June 21st, two days before the campaign for the referendum was to start, the vote was postponed sine die following widespread demonstrations. What prompted this resistance to, and ultimate postponement of the planned referendum? What is so controversial about this constitutional revision?

The constitutional changes were meant to implement clauses of the Algiers Peace Agreement signed between the Malian government and former rebel groups in 2015, and to correct “deficiencies and shortcomings” in the constitution. One of the important changes was to be the introduction of a Senate, to give an official role to Mali’s traditional leaders.

On June 3, the National Assembly endorsed the proposed constitutional revisions by 111 votes to 35. Opposition parties voted against the reform, arguing that it strengthens presidential powers unduly. Main concerns include the ability for the president to appoint 30 percent of senators as well as the presiding judge of the constitutional court. Also, the president would be able to dismiss the prime minister at will (effectively transforming Mali from a premier-presidential to a president-parliamentary type of semi-presidential regime).

Following the vote, a platform of political opposition members and civil society activists came together in a determined campaign against the referendum, conducting several demonstrations. The largest of these, on June 17, brought thousands of protesters into the streets of Bamako, who also seized the opportunity to accuse the government of President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita (IBK) of bad governance. With a year left ahead of presidential polls in July 2018 where IBK will stand for reelection, protests appeared to be morphing from opposition against the constitutional reform to a broader indictment of the government. In the face of this resistance, the government bowed to the pressure, at least temporarily, by postponing the referendum.

This is not the first time that constitutional reform in Mali has been aborted at the last moment.[1]  In November 2001, former President Alpha Oumar Konaré called off a referendum scheduled for the following month. Some of the criticisms at the time echo concerns voiced by the opposition to the current revision – notably increased presidential control of the constitutional court (Wing, 457). Also, interestingly, many of the proposed changes this year were included in the constitutional reform effort of former President Amadou Toumani Touré (ATT) that was cut short by the 2012 coup. In 2012, those changes that faced similar, significant opposition included: the introduction of a Senate whereto the president would be able to appoint a significant number of senators; the president’s ability to appoint the chief justice of the constitutional court;[2] and the president’s power to dismiss the prime minister at will (Wing, 462).

Not surprisingly, among the leading opponents today are some of those who most vocally opposed the same constitutional changes back in 2012, including Tiébilié Dramé, the président of the Party for National Rebirth (Parena), and Mme. Sy Kadiatou Sow who leads the joint civil society-political party movement against the constitutional referendum, “An tè A Bana. Touche pas à ma Constitution” (Don’t touch my constitution). These opponents criticize not just the proposed changes, but also the reform process itself for lacking transparency and not being inclusive – criticisms also advanced in 2012 – and for being ill-advised when segments of the population would be unable to vote due to ongoing insecurity. According to Wing (2015), the controversies surrounding constitutional reform in 2012 contributed to the overthrow of then President ATT by further delegitimizing an already unpopular government.

Taking lessons from the past, the government’s decision to postpone the referendum was probably a wise one. In a context where the central government remains week and lacks the ability to exercise its authority across the entirety of the country, it is all the more important that the constitutional reform process benefits from widespread legitimacy. The challenge is now how to ensure that promises made in the 2015 Peace Agreement are acted upon, should constitutional changes be significantly delayed.

[1] See Susanna Wing’s interesting analysis of past troubled constitutional reform efforts in Mali: Susanna Wing (2015), “ ‘Hands off my constitution’: Constitutional reform and the workings of democracy in Mali, “ in Journal of Modern African Studies, 53, 3, pp. 451-475.

[2] The chief justice of the constitutional court is responsible for proclaiming electoral results; also, the constitutional court is tasked with resolving electoral disputes. The president’s ability to appoint the chief justice of the court is particularly controversial with IBK up for reelection in 2018.

Mali – President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita’s new cabinet, preparing for 2018

On April 11, President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita (IBK) announced a new cabinet, headed by former Defense Minister Abdoulaye Idrissa Maiga whom he appointed on April 8 to replace former Prime Minister Modibo Keita. Maiga becomes IBK’s fourth prime minister (PM) in as many years and is the first to belong to the Rally for Mali (RPM), the president’s party. His three predecessors were all independents.

Newly appointed PM Maiga is one of the founding members of the RPM and served as campaign director for IBK in the 2013 presidential campaign — an indication of where the priorities of this new government are going to be, as preparations for the 2018 presidential election get underway. The perhaps most surprising appointment in the new cabinet is the come-back  of Tiéman Hubert Coulibaly as Minister for Territorial Administration. Coulibaly was dismissed as Minister of Defense less than 8 months ago, in September of last year, following the loss of territory to Jihadist fighters in central Mali. Seen as a close ally of President IBK, he is now back in the cabinet with a portfolio that will put him charge of organizing the 2018 presidential election.

The 36-member cabinet (including the PM), of which 8 are women, sees the entry of 11 new ministers who join 25 remaining from the former government. At 22 percent, women’s representation falls well short of the 30 gender quota for appointed and elected office that was adopted in 2015. Eight former cabinet members leave, including notably the ministers of health and education, two sectors that have seen protracted strikes over recent weeks. A high profile departure is that of Mountaga Tall, president of the Democratic Initiative National Congress of Mali (CNID) and a likely presidential contender in 2018, who was formerly minister of IT and communication. The presence and responsibilities of ruling-party members and of members of its key ally, the Alliance for Democracy in Mali (ADEMA) party, in the government appear to have been strengthened, overall. No opposition members are included. An overview of the new cabinet is provided in table 1 below.

The new government will have a busy and challenging agenda, in a context of social crisis and growing insecurity. An ongoing strike in the education sector will be one of the first priorities to address. PM Maiga met with labor union representatives within days of taking office. The 2015 peace accord with former rebel groups has struggled to get off the ground, resulting in weak state authority and presence in large swaths of the territory. Various Jihadist movements are taking advantage of this power vacuum, staging repeated deadly attacks. The UN mission to Mali – MINUSMA – is the deadliest in the UN’s history of peacekeeping. Without significant progress in the implementation of the peace accord, IBK’s ambition of winning a second term in 2018 could be similarly under threat.

Table 1: Mali’s new cabinet

Position Name Previous position in cabinet  Affiliation
Prime Minister Abdoulaye Idrissa Maiga Defense minister RPM, vice-president
Defense Tiéna Coulibaly NEW Former amb. to US, former minister
Territorial Administration Tiéman Hubert Coulibaly NEW (was defense minister till 2016) UDD, president
Security Brigadier Gen. Salif Traoré Same Security sector
Foreign Affairs Abdoulaye Diop Same Career diplomat
Justice Mamadou Ismaïla Konaté Same Lawyer
Economy and Finance Boubou Cissé Same Former World Bank employee
Mines Tiémoko Sangaré Same ADEMA, president
Transportation Baber Gano NEW RPM, secretary general
Solidarity and Humanitarian  Action Hamadou Konaté Same Expert in social development
National Education Mohamed Ag Erlaf Decentralization and Government Reform RPM, member of leadership
Higher Education and Research Assétou Founé Samake Migan Same Public sector
Human Rights and Government Reform Kassoum Tapo NEW ADEMA
Decentralization and Local Taxation Alhassane Ag Hamed Moussa NEW Public sector
National Reconciliation Mohamed El Moctar Same Public sector, former minister
Malian Diaspora and African Integration Abdramane Sylla Same RPM
Investment Promotion and Private Sector Konimba Sidibé Same MODEC, president
Habitat and Urbanism Mohamed Ali Bathily Public Land Lawyer
Agriculture Nango Dembele Livestock and Fishery Public sector
Livestock and Fishery Ly Taher Drave NEW Private sector
IT and Communication Arouna Modibo Touré NEW Public sector
Equipment and Access Traoré Seynabou Diop Same Public sector
Industrial Development Mohamed Aly Ag Ibrahim Same Public sector
Employment and Professional Training Maouloud Ben Kattra NEW Labor union
Health Samba Ousmane Sow NEW Health sector
Labor Diarra Raky Talla Same Public sector
Trade, Government Spokesperson Abdel Karim Konaté Same (except new role as government spokesperson) ADEMA
Energy and Water Malick Alhousseini Same Public sector
Environment Keita Aïda M’Bo Same Former UNDP employee
Territorial Developm. and Population Adama Tiémoko Diarra NEW ADEMA
Culture N’Diaye Ramatoulaye Diallo Same Private sector
Crafts and Tourism Nina Walet Intallou Same CMA (rebel group coordination)
Women, Children and Families Traoré Oumou Touré NEW Civil society
Sports Housseïni Amion Guindo Same CODEM, president
Religion Thierno Amadou Omar Hass Diallo Same Teaching and consultancies
Youth Amadou Koita Same PS, president

Source: Author’s research.

Mali – Analysis of final legislative elections results

Mali held second-round legislative elections on December 15, to fill 127 remaining seats after only 20 out of 147 seats were filled in the first round of the polls on November 24th. Despite a suicide attack in the northern city of Kidal the previous day that killed two Senegalese UN-peacekeepers, election day was peaceful.

Voter turnout at 37.2% was slightly down from the 38.5 % in the second round and significantly lower than the record 49% who voted in the first round of the presidential race in July, 2013. However, this was still a respectable show of interest in a country that historically has seen voter turnout hover between 20 and 40 %.

Not surprisingly, the party of newly elected President Ibrahim Boubakar Keita (IBK) won the lion’s share of seats, though his party, the Rally for Mali (RPM), fell short of an absolute majority. Final results validated on January 2, 2014 by the Constitutional Court are as follows:

RPM (ruling party):                                                                                      66 seats

URD (largest opposition party):                                                                   17

ADEMA (largest RPM ally):                                                                         16

FARE:                                                                                                           6

CODEM:                                                                                                       5

SADI:                                                                                                            5

CNID:                                                                                                            4

PARENA, PDES, MPR, ASMA:                                                                    3 seats each

ADP, CDS, MIRIA, UM RDA:                                                                        2 seats each

YELEMA, UDD, PRVM and APR:                                                                1 seat each

Independents:                                                                                               4                     

                                                                                                                      TOTAL 147

 Overall, national and international observers deemed the electoral process satisfactory, though the EU international observation delegation noted the Constitutional Court’s uneven review of electoral complaints from the first round. In Djenné, this resulted in the Union for the Republic and Democracy (URD) having to face off against an RPM-Adema list following the Court’s decision to cancel the vote in certain polling stations. Preliminary results had given a first round win to the URD. Ultimately, the URD won the two seats in Djenné in the second round of the polls. After the second round, the Constitutional Court threw out results from a number of polling stations in the districts of Gao, Nara and Niono, leading to a reversal for nine deputies. The reallocation of seats following the Court’s decision largely favored the RPM – to the detriment of Adema and some of the RPM’s smaller allied parties.

The new National Assembly will see a significant renewal with a number of long-serving legislators losing their seats, while new political parties – such as FARE and ASMA – have made inroads in the legislature. President IBK’s son, Karim Keita, will represent Commune II of Bamako, elected on the RPM list. Women candidates did not benefit from the renewal, however, with only 14 elected (9.5% of seats), a decline from the 15 women deputies winning in 2007.

The final results confirm the URD, the party of presidential runner-up Soumaila Cissé, as the 2nd largest political formation in the country – ahead of Adema, the party that held a relative majority in the previous legislature. Adema has been weakened by internal leadership struggles and has gradually lost ground, after controlling both the presidency and a legislative majority in the years following the democratic transition in the early 1990s. IBK and Cissé are both former leaders of Adema. Local alliances in the establishment of lists for the multimember legislative districts reflect the still fluid nature of politics in Mali, with RPM-URD alliances in Diola and Tenenkou, URD-Adema alliances in Bamako and elsewhere, and even URD-SADI alliances in Gao and Koutiala (SADI having supported the former junta of General Sanogo, while Cissé remained the junta’s strongest opponent). For detailed results per voting district see here.

With Adema and a number of smaller allied parties, the RPM has a comfortable legislative majority of about 115 seats. Under Mali’s semi-presidential constitution, President IBK will thus be in a position to appoint a prime minister who has the backing of the ruling majority. It will be interesting to see if IBK will want to revive the constitutional referendum initiated by his predecessor, President Amadou Toumani Touré (ATT). If passed, the constitutional reform would among other things have strengthened presidential powers by allowing the president to dismiss the prime minister at will – a change that effectively would have moved Mali from the premier-presidential to the president-parliamentary sub-type of semi-presidential regimes. Robert Elgie has shown the latter sub-type to be associated with poorer democratic performance than the former. Hopefully, IBK will be busy with reconciliation in the north and leave such constitutional reform aside for the moment. 

Shifting sands in Mali – toward a new model of parliamentary strength?

This is a guest post by Lauren Kunis, Program Manager at the National Democratic Institute (lkunis@ndi.org)

Malians went to the polls on November 24 to elect 147 members of the National Assembly (AN) – a final step in the country’s return to democracy following a March 2012 coup d’etat that catapulted the country into a downward spiral of intertwined political and security crises.  In Mali’s two-round electoral system, a party list or independent candidate list must win an absolute majority of votes in the first round in order to be awarded the district’s parliamentary seats. Seats are attributed to districts based on population, with districts this year having between one and seven seats up for grabs.  Last week’s first round of voting was largely inconclusive, and 44 of 55 electoral districts will hold a runoff election on December 15. Only 22 out of the 147 seats were won outright in the first round.

Voting proceeded in a largely peaceful fashion, but the big story was the dismal turnout across the country. Domestic and international observers all remarked on the limited presence of voters in the polls, and the official results released on November 27 cited a 38.5 percent participation rate. Malians’ lack of interest in the election of their new MPs could perhaps most plausibly reflect the limited importance that citizens attach to the work of the legislature and the low regard in which they hold it. In a November 2012 survey conducted by the Friedrich Ebert Foundation, 46.5 percent of Malians stated that they had “no confidence” in the AN, with an additional 10 percent responding that they had “no opinion.” 

 Mali’s weak legislature was one of several festering weaknesses in the country’s first two decades of democracy. The AN failed to reflect the vast array of citizen priorities and provide an effective check on executive branch power. It rarely introduced its own legislation, opting instead to summarily pass bills submitted by the executive – very often unanimously.  A hallmark of the last five years was a “consensus model” of government in which parties were gradually co-opted by former president Amadou Toumani Touré’s political movement. By 2012, of the 13 parties represented in the legislature, only one party with nominal representation (4 of 147 deputies) belonged to the political opposition.  This discouraged partisan differentiation and a true, issue-based debate that would pique citizens’ interest, encourage political engagement, and broaden political participation beyond a narrow class of elites. 

 This summer, Malians elected Ibrahima Boubacar Keita (IBK) of the Rally for Mali (RPM) party to the presidency. Narrowly missing a first-round victory, IBK was elected with a resounding 77 percent of the vote in an August runoff election. Having distanced himself from the prevailing parliamentary coalition in the months following the coup, it was in IBK’s best political interest to organize legislative polls as quickly as possible in order to capitalize upon this surge of support to secure the “comfortable legislative majority” he desired. Meanwhile, presidential runner-up Soumalia Cissé of the Union for Republic and Democracy (URD) party vowed to turn his attention toward creating a unified, vocal, and empowered parliamentary opposition.

An analysis of the party lists presented in Mali’s legislative polls reveals that Cissé may fall short in delivering on this promise. There are not consistent party alliances across the country that would foreshadow a solid opposition in the new legislature. Rather than forming national electoral coalitions, party leaders at the local level scrambled to form alliances in an ad-hoc fashion that would allow them the best chances for victory at the polls. This is starkly illustrated by instances in which IBK’s ruling RPM party presented joint lists with Cissé’s opposition URD. In other districts, the URD formed alliances with the fringe SADI party, a vocal supporter of the March 2012 coup that overthrew the former regime of which the URD had been a solid supporter. 

 Mali’s next legislature needs to re-earn the trust of the Malian people by demonstrating that it is an autonomous body for debate – not simply a rubber-stamping entity for the president. A strong parliamentary opposition would be a big part of this. Despite the lack of consistency in the opposition parties’ electoral alliances, can Cissé bring a new model of parliamentary strength to Mali? Or will legislators fall prey to old habits and enter into a second era of consensus politics – to the detriment of the legislature and Malian citizens alike?