Thursday, March 29, 2012

The New Constitution of Mali: A Fig Leaf for Military Dictatorship

            In the wake of the coup d’état in Mali, the CNRDRE mutineer government has paid lip service to democracy. Capt. Amadou Sanogo speaks as though he is manifesting the will of the Malian people to crush the Tuareg insurrection in the North, to improve education, and do away with corruption in government. However, in substance, Sanogo and his CNRDRE cadres have effectively established a one man dictatorship and a military junta in the wake of the democratic regime which existed from 1993 to March 22, 2012.

            On March 28, Magistrate Lt. Jacques Koné of CNRDRE came on the ORTM television network to read aloud a new “constitution” line for line. It would be a gross understatement to say that this document, slapped together in the handful of days since the coup on March 22, was drafted with something less than the republican ethos of the Constitution of 1992.  

The new constitution reaffirms the most superficial aspects of the Republic of Mali’s former Constitution of 1992; that the name of the country is “La Republique du Mali”, that the capital is in Bamako, that the flag shall be composed of three stripes, red, gold and green. Though the 2012 Constitution attaches foremost importance rhetorical emphasis on the language of independence, democracy, and territorial integrity, in reality - of course - the new regime lacks 2 out of 3 of those qualities.
The Constitution of 2012 also pays lip-service to human rights and civil liberties. Article 7 through 31 intone that “human life is sacred”,  enshrines freedom of thought, freedom of religion, freedom of the press, freedom of art and culture, freedom from torture, the right to property, the right to work, the right to unionize, the right to strike. It even creates some positive rights; namely, the right to education, health care and jobs. When the government of a country with abysmal access to health care and crushing unemployment enshrines a constitutional right to universal health care and employment, it makes one wonder how serious they really take any of the words of this document.

For instance, Article 25 of the new Constitution protects "freedom of association, meeting, and demonstration." However the new junta has already demonstrated that it has no toleration for any such thing. In at least two instances, plainclothes thugs attacked peaceful demonstrators protesting the coup. At the most signficant occurence, at a major rally at the labor exchange, a group of CNRDRE goons arrived, throwing rocks at the demonstrators and beating them with sticks. Of course, as the assailants did not wear uniforms it is unclear for sure whether or not they acting as private individuals or as agents of the CNRDRE regime; however common sense and recent history in Egypt, Libya, and Syria suggests the latter.  
Acting on their promise to improve the ethics of the Malian government, Article 35 Constitution prohibits “sabotage, vandalism, corruption, and illicit enrichment” from governmental service. In other words, the junta that only days ago looted the Presidential Palace has a remarkable sense of chutzpah.
More troubling than CNRDRE’s sacking of the home of the legal, then-incumbent head of state is the fact that the new constitutional sacking of the very tenet of constitutionalism; namely, separation of powers. In marked contrast with the 1992 Constitution, which preserved a civilian presidency and an independent judiciary, the 2012 Constitution names the President the head of government, the military, and the judiciary. The President has exclusive authority to make foreign and military policy – which makes sense for a military junta. The President has the prerogative to appoint the Prime Minister. The new constitution grants CNRDRE – an appendage of the President-apparent Sanogo – legislative powers, as well as powers to change the Constitution. It appears that the President will make decrees, and the military and the judiciary will enforce them. 
To demonstrate just how little Capt. Sanogo & Co. appreciate the concept of accountability in government, the “Constitution” of March 28, 2012 also grants the President explicit power to grant amnesty to members of CNRDRE. In other words, the Constitution grants blanket immunity to the leaders of the coup - whose members have committed treason against a democratic government, looted the presidential palace, committed widespread theft in Bamako, has made scores of political arrests of government ministers and presidential candidates and continues to hold them as political prisoners, and that has left three people dead thusfar.
            Notably absent from the new Malian Constitution is any language pertaining to voting or elections. Of course, that should not be an issue until the CNRDRE regime holds elections – as Capt. Sanago promises – after it "secures the country" in the North, fixes longstanding problems in the military, education, corruption in government. The Tuareg rebellion began in earnest in 1962, and the government has been suppressing it on and off for the past half-century. Mali's endemic problems in education and corruption will take many multiple generations to reform. In other words, I wouldn't hold my breath.
            The Constitution does mention the National Assembly, which CNRDRE declared dissolved as of last week. It appears that CNDRE has taken their place as the legislative branch of government – that is, unelected and an entirely indifferentiable appendage of the presidency.
If you connect the dots, the 2012 "Constitution" is nothing of the kind. It is the putschists’ self­-declaration of authority to rule the territory of Mali and the Malian people, substituting their own manifestation of the popular will for the consent of the people derived from elections – which were scheduled for April 29th. It establishes a government of the mutineers, by the mutineers, for the mutineers – all in the name of the “Restoration of Democracy.” The new “Constitution” is merely a fig leaf for an unchecked military dictatorship which has no interest in the rule of law, no respect for constitutionalism, and has no interest in restoring democratic government anytime in the foreseeable future.

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