A conference in Mali charged with recommending a timetable for democratic elections following a military coup said on Thursday that polls scheduled for February should be delayed by six months to five years in part because of security issues.
Mali’s transitional government initially agreed to hold elections in February 2022, 18 months after an army faction led by Colonel Assimi Goita overthrew President Boubacar Ibrahim Keita.
But it has made little progress, blaming disorganization and Islamist violence in the north and central parts of the country.
ECOWAS, West Africa’s main political and economic bloc, has imposed sanctions on the coup leaders and had promised more if Mali did not produce a plan for February elections by Friday.
The government has said it will take the recommendations of the National Refoundation Conference and decide on a new election calendar by the end of January.
A prolonged transition back to democracy could isolate Mali from its neighbors and from former colonial power France, which has thousands of soldiers deployed there against insurgents linked to al-Qaida and Islamic State.
It could also undermine democracy in West and Central Africa, where military coup leaders in Chad and Guinea are also under pressure to organize elections and give up power.
The proposed election timetable comes at a delicate time politically. France is reducing its military presence in the north, and Russia has sent private military contractors to train Malian troops, a move Western powers worry is the beginning of a wider Russian deployment.