The military government previously missed a deadline for holding the referendum seen as a milestone on the way to elections next year.
Mali’s ruling government has announced that a long-awaited referendum on a new constitution will be held in the West African country on June 18.
The referendum is an important milestone on the way to the elections promised for February 2024, following a coup in May 2021.
Government spokesman Colonel Abdoulaye Maiga read a decree on state television on Friday that said the country had been called upon to “decide on the Constitution Project” in June, after missing an earlier March 19 deadline.
“Voters will have to answer ‘yes’ or ‘no’ to the following question,” the spokesman said of the referendum. “Do you approve the draft constitution?”
Members of the country’s security forces will vote early on June 11.
The delay in March was expected as almost no arrangements had been made for the vote and the draft constitution was not handed over to interim president and coup leader Assimi Goita until February 27.
The Economic Community of West African States lifted a series of trade and financial sanctions against Mali in July after the military government committed to a handover in March 2024.
The sanctions were imposed in January 2022 when the military government was considering staying in power for up to five years.
The draft constitution significantly strengthens the power of the president. Under it, the president in place of the government appoints the prime minister and ministers and has the right to dismiss them and dissolve parliament.
Other parts of the design have already sparked controversy.
Part of the draft states that Mali is an “independent, sovereign, unitary, indivisible, democratic, secular and social republic”. Imams, a powerful class in the country, have challenged the principle of secularism and have called on Muslims to oppose it.
The draft also proclaims any coup as an “inexplicable crime”. But those who staged the 2020 coup and another in 2021 to consolidate their hold on power would be safe, as acts prior to the entry into force of the constitution would be covered by amnesty laws.
Mali is in the throes of an 11-year-old security crisis triggered by a regional uprising in the north that developed into a full-blown insurgency. Frustration that French troops, who had been in the country since 2013, could not wipe out the rebels led to rising anti-French sentiment.
That and the military rule in the country led to soured relations with France, the country’s traditional ally and former colonizer, and closer ties with Russia.