(Bloomberg) -- Malians approved a new constitution that increases the powers of junta leader Assimi Goita while opening a door for him to contest in future elections.

The new provisions vest the power to hire and fire prime ministers and sectoral ministers in the president. Under the old rules, the president only chooses the prime minister who then forms a government and has the power to dissolve it.

The new rules passed with 97% of eligible votes in the June 18 referendum and a 39% turnout, the electoral commission said on Friday. It’s one of several reforms Mali’s military rulers say are necessary to pave the way for a return to civilian rule.

Mali’s international partners — including the United Nations, the US, France and regional bodies — have pushed for elections next year. The referendum increases the possibility that Goita and other junta members could run in future votes because the transition charter that excludes them from contesting was based on the old constitution.

The new constitution potentially protects Goita, who overthrew civilian leaders in August 2020 and again in May 2021, from an eventual trial under law. While it proclaims any coup as an “imprescriptible” violation, it excludes those coups as acts prior to the constitution coming into force, and therefore covered by amnesty laws. 

Diplomatic Ties

Since taking power, the military leadership has cut military ties to France while reinforcing its connection with Russia. The Kremlin-linked Wagner Group, which operates alongside Malian troops since 2021, has committed multiple atrocities against civilians, according to the human-rights division of the UN peacekeeping mission to Mali, known as Minusma.

Mali has denied the presence of private military contractors, saying they’re Russian military instructors.

On June 16, Mali called for the immediate withdrawal of Minusma including the 13,000-strong peacekeeping force. The country’s deteriorating security situation shows “the failure of Minusma” under a mandate that “doesn’t respond to the security challenges,” according to Minister of Foreign Affairs Abdoulaye Diop.

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