Malian voters cast ballots on a new draft constitution Sunday in a referendum that the country's coup leader says will pave the way toward holding new elections in 2024, but that critics have called a delaying tactic for him to extend his time in power.
After casting his vote Col. Assimi Goita, head of the junta governing the country, thanked the armed forces and saluted the resilience of the Malian people.
Goita called the Malians to remain united whatever the outcome of the referendum.
“I would also like to launch an appeal to all Malians, whatever the outcome of the referendum results, to hold hands and form a sacred union around Mali" the president of the transitional government said.
“I am convinced that this referendum will pave the way for a new Mali, a strong and efficient Mali serving the well-being of our people."
Earlier this week Imam Mahmoud Dicko, an opponent of the military junta, invited his supporters to a large hall in Bamako on Friday to ask them to vote against it.
Malians who voted Sunday said they hoped the constitution's approval would be a step in the right direction for a country mired by Islamic extremist violence for a decade.
The proposed draft constitution creates a two-chamber parliament, the National Assembly and the Senate; until now the country has only had a National Assembly.
The draft also consolidates the position of the President of Mali, a move that has drawn much political debate.