West African leaders have called for the swift creation of a unity government in Mali as part of efforts to resolve the country’s political crisis, but warned of sanctions against those standing in the way.
In a statement issued after a video conference on Monday, heads of the 15-nation regional bloc ECOWAS stood by President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita but called for a unity government to be “established rapidly” and urged the opposition to join it.
Addressing demands by protesters that Keita quit, the bloc said the country’s democratic constitution had to be respected and asked an ECOWAS commission “to consider sanctions against all those who act contrary to the normalisation process of the crisis”.
The ECOWAS four-point plan also recommended that 31 members of parliament whose elections were contested should step down and that by-elections be held. It also called for an inquiry into the deaths of 11 people earlier this month when anti-government protests spiralled into clashes, in the worst bout of political unrest Mali has seen in years
The bloc called for its plan to be implemented within 10 days.
The M5-RFP opposition coalition, also known as the June 5 Movement, that has spearheaded anti-Keita protests was unimpressed by the proposals.
“We take note, but we really believe that this is not the will of the people, it is not what we expect,” said coalition spokesman Nouhoum Togo, who said it was in the process of reviewing the recommendations.
Manu Lukunze, a teaching fellow at University of Aberdeen, said there is no guarantee the regional bloc’s proposal will be accepted by all opposition parties.
“There is a small chance this plan might work. Some of the opposition groups I spoke to today are saying perhaps if they are given a substantive position in the government they will consider the proposal,” Lukunze told Al Jazeera.
Keita has been in power since 2013, winning elections in which he posed as a national saviour in the face of a regional rebellion.
Since then, the country’s problems have escalated, with anti-government demonstrators voicing their anger in recent weeks.
The 75-year-old president is dogged by rising insecurity, a deep economic crisis and accusations that the outcome of long-delayed legislative elections, held in March and April, was skewed.
Last month, a coalition of various groups came together behind Mahmoud Dicko, an influential Muslim leader that has mobilised tens of thousands of protesters under the June 5 Movement umbrella.
Successive demonstrations in the capital, Bamako, have rattled Keita’s grip, stirring worries among neighbours who fear that the country plagued by a worsening conflict could spiral into chaos.