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Junta holds up return to civil rule and breaks its deal with the Ecowas regional bloc

As the ruling colonels and Russian mercenaries struggle to counter insurgents they are extending their grip on power

The announcement by the military regime in Bamako on 10 March that it would postpone a constitutional referendum scheduled for 19 March confirm its plans to delay elections until 2028 – at the earliest. This was on the cards after February's unanimous vote in the National Transitional Council (NTC), ardently loyal toward the junta, backed the idea (AC Vol 64 No 5, A junta that's going nowhere).

Government spokesman Colonel Abdoulaye Maiga gave no information beyond the fact that the referendum 'will be slightly postponed'. The two steps suggest that the government has no plans to respect its commitments to the Economic Community of West African States (Ecowas) to hold elections in February 2024 and return to civilian rule.

Indeed, the referendum to pass the new constitution is a prerequisite before a timetable for elections can be set.

The junta has explained the delay as being the result of delays in getting election management officials in post in all regions of the country and by the desire to popularize the draft new Constitution.

The final version of the constitution presented to the head of the junta, Colonel Assimi Goïta, on 27 February, affirms the 'attachment to the republican form and secularity of the state'.

'The new date for the referendum will be set after consultation with the independent election management authority and all the actors in the electoral process,' Maiga's statement added.

Yet it is hard to see the postponement as anything more than another direct challenge to Ecowas, which lifted sanctions against the regime in July when the February 2024 elections date was agreed and will now come under pressure to reimpose them (AC Vol 63 No 15, Goïta plays to his nationalist gallery). In the meantime, there is little prospect of the international community providing the funding needed to update Mali's electoral register, itself another prerequisite before elections can be held.

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