A majority of voters in Mali have approved a new constitution that significantly strengthens the president and the military. However, protests against the referendum have erupted in the northern regions of the country.

New constitution for Mali

The crisis-ridden West African state of Mali, which is governed by the military, has adopted a new constitution that gives more power to the president and the armed forces. According to the electoral commission in the capital Bamako, 97 percent of participants in last Sunday’s constitutional referendum voted in favor of the new constitution with a voter turnout of 39.4 percent.

The results are provisional and still have to be announced by the Constitutional Court. Former northern rebel groups protested on Thursday that no voting was carried out outside the major cities there. The nomadic Tuareg regard it as a violation of a peace agreement of 2015 that the north is not granted greater autonomy.

Democratic transition to begin

According to the electoral commission, voting was not possible in 1,121 out of 24,416 polling stations nationwide. More than two years after the last military coup in the Sahel state with around 23 million inhabitants, the constitutional referendum should mark the beginning of a democratic transition process, with a civilian president to be elected by next March.

It is uncertain whether the schedule can be met after the constitutional referendum was already delayed by three months.

Criticism over certain passages of the constitution

Under the new constitution, which is supposed to replace the 1992 text, the president and the military will be significantly strengthened. The separation of civilian and military power will be abolished, and the army will be entrusted with the “execution of the law.”

The president gains more power over the government and plays a larger role in legislation. Observers see passages critically that could be tantamount to an amnesty for recent military coups.

Mali’s multilingual state will have thirteen official languages in the future, while French will remain the working language. New institutions such as a Senate and a Court of Auditors will also be introduced.

Recruitment of Russian mercenaries

The security situation in northern and central Mali is very poor. Islamists close to terrorist groups such as IS and Al-Qaeda control large areas of the country on the edge of the Sahara.

Last week, the military junta led by Colonel Assimi Goïta demanded the withdrawal of the UN stabilization mission, with around 12,000 peacekeeping soldiers, which also involves 1,100 German soldiers.

The Malian army, with the help of Russian mercenaries, is fighting against the terrorists. Crimes against civilians have been documented on both sides.