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Mali Mulls Constitutional Changes

FILE: A demonstrator watches the crowd with a Malian flag painted on his cheek, during a mass demonstration in Bamako, on January 14, 2022, to protest against sanctions imposed on Mali and the Junta by the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS).

Proposals to change Mali's constitution to enable the military-run nation to return to civilian rule would bolster the president's powers and reduce the status of the French language according to a draft.

The head of state, not the government, will "determine the policies of the Nation," appoint and fire the prime minister and ministers, and be empowered to dissolve the National Assembly, the constitutional draft says.

The document had not been officially published as of early Tuesday, but the draft seen by AFP strengthens the powers of the presidency as compared with Mali's 1992 constitution.

Junta leader Colonel Assimi Goita, who was appointed transitional president in May 2021, formally received the constitutional draft on Monday. A first version, drawn up in October, had been sent back for further revision.

The government "is responsible to the president", as opposed to parliament as was the case previously, the draft text adds.

Proposing laws will be the prerogative of the president and the National Assembly, whereas this was previously the right of the government and MPs.

The president, who would be elected for five years and limited to two terms, would also have the right to order nationwide mobilizations for adults aged over 18.

The 1992 constitution and a draft drawn up in October 2022 described French as "the language of official expression", but the latest revised version promotes local languages to "official" status.

"National languages are the official languages of Mali" while "French is the working language", according to the new draft.

The proposed change coincides with a row between the junta and France, which last year ended its anti-jihadist mission in Mali after the junta brought in Russian operatives described by Paris as Wagner mercenaries.

The constitution is to be put to a referendum, which in theory is to take place on March 19.

But there are widespread doubts this will take place as scheduled, and Goita has made no comment on the timetable.

The 2020 coup that put Goita in power was triggered by anger within the military at failures to roll back a jihadist insurgency that has claimed thousands of lives, forced hundreds of thousands from their homes and inflicted devastating economic damage.