(formerly IRIN News) Journalism from the heart of crises

Move on referendum good for democracy, say diplomats

The decision by Mali's President Alpha Oumar Konare to appear on national television on Wednesday, and cancel a referendum planned for 23 December, may have been a democratic response to widespread public criticism, but it is another sign that Mali's political scenario is 'worrisome', diplomatic sources in the capital Bamako told IRIN on Friday.

Criticism of the proposed reforms had come from the country's 11-party collective opposition, and the independent union of the judiciary who described the reforms as unconstitutional. Konare said his action was taken for the sake of democracy because the referendum vote 'needed the support of the people', BBC reported on Wednesday.

Diplomats however told IRIN Konare found himself "trapped in his own game" - with divisions within his ruling party, an opposition that was also divided, and an economic performance which has in recent years received lots of support from donor countries but was not doing "so great" anymore.

The referendum, BBC said, would have granted the president constitutional immunity from prosecution. If Malians had voted for reforms they would also have handed over to the president total control of the country's supreme legislative body, the constitutional courts.

On Tuesday, opposition parties called a news conference in which they charged that the proposals which they had helped write and that parliament had accepted in 1999 had been altered by Konare. But Konare, whose current and last term ends early next year, rejected allegations that he was acting unilaterally and arbitrarily in a statement also seen to reflect intensifying tension within the ruling party itself.

But a diplomat in Bamako told IRIN: "Why would you seek immunity if you have been running your affairs in the right way? His move was, however a good sign of democracy. Mali serves as a good test to see whether democratic proposals by Western countries work for Africa."

Hailed for its democracy by the Western world, the country enjoys good credentials among the donor community.

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