A major coalition of political parties in Mali has rejected the military-dominated government’s plan to extend a transition period for up to five years before the country returns to democratic rule.
The coalition, known as the National Committee for the Salvation of the People (CNSP), said in a statement on Sunday that the “unilateral and unreasonable” timetable was in violation of the transition charter “and cannot in any way be the deep desire of the Malian people”.
“[We] reserve the right to use every possible legal mean to ensure that the democratic principles obtained through a long battle and numerous sacrifices will not be wiped out by attempts at confiscating power through force and deceit,” added the CNSP, which represents some 10 parties.
The transitional government had initially agreed to hold presidential and legislative elections in February 2022, amid pressure from the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) regional bloc.
Foreign Minister Abdoulaye Diop submitted the new plans to ECOWAS on Saturday, following a national reform conference boycotted by political parties and social organisations.
The plans envisage a six-month to five-year prolongation of the transition period, starting on January 1 and reversing a pledge to have an 18-month transition government.
ECOWAS, which has threatened to impose further sanctions on Mali’s ruling military government for postponing the elections, is due to hold an extraordinary summit about Mali in Ghana’s capital, Accra, on January 9.
Colonel Assimi Goita has effectively led Mali since an August 2020 coup removed former President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita, after weeks of street protests against perceived corruption and the government’s handling of a years-long conflict with armed groups.
Under pressure from former colonial power France and Mali’s neighbours, Goita pledged Mali would return to civilian rule after holding presidential and legislative elections in February this year.
But he staged a de facto second coup in May 2021, when he pushed aside the interim president who had taken over after Keita’s removal and took the job himself. Goita initially pledged that the February elections would be held as planned but the government has since cited persistent insecurity in Mali’s restive north in its decision to postpone the polls.
Large parts of the country’s territory remain out of the government’s control as self-defence militias and armed men affiliated with al-Qaeda and ISIL (ISIS) mete out violence on civilians and soldiers.
The violence, in which ideologically-motivated armed groups have stoked ethnic tensions while jockeying for power, has spilled into the neighbouring countries of Niger and Burkina Faso, destabilising the wider Sahel region and leaving a massive humanitarian crisis in its wake.
France has thousands of soldiers deployed across the Sahel to battle armed groups, but it has been scaling down its presence in northern Mali nearly nine years after its military intervention.