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Mali: Government and Politics
Country Study > Government and Politics


Political Overview: Mali is a constitutional democracy, officially the Third Republic of Mali, inaugurated in 1992. Longstanding single-party rule ended in 1991, and a transitional government was formed to oversee the drafting of a new constitution and the transition to a democratic form of government. Amadou Toumani Touré took office on June 8, 2002, as Mali’s second democratically elected president. The Touré administration includes representatives of many parties, in order to minimize partisan politics and promote a climate of consensus. The government’s stated goals are to concentrate on long-term development, alleviate poverty, and implement social programs.

Constitution: Mali is governed by the constitution of January 12, 1992, which was approved by a national referendum on that date. Like its two predecessors, the 1992 constitution is based on the French model. The constitution was amended in 1999 to incorporate some revisions of the electoral system and strengthen the judicial system, but the amended document was never put to a popular referendum for approval.

Branches of Government: The constitution provides for a separation of powers among the executive, legislative, and judicial branches of government. The system of government can be described as “semi-presidential.” Executive power is vested in a president, who is elected to a five-year term by universal suffrage and is constitutionally limited to two terms. The president serves as chief of state and commander in chief of the armed forces. A prime minister appointed by the president serves as head of government and in turn appoints the Council of Ministers,which, as of July 2004, consisted of the prime minister and 26 cabinet ministers. The Council formulates and implements government policy and submits legislative proposals to the National Assembly. The prime minister is accountable to parliament, but the president has the power to dissolve parliament.

The unicameral National Assembly is Mali’s sole legislative body, consisting of 147 members popularly elected to five-year terms. Following the 2002 elections, 16 political parties, grouped into several parliamentary coalitions, were represented in the assembly. No single party or coalition held a majority of seats following the elections, but the Rally for Mali (Rassemblement Pour le Mali—RPM) party and affiliated parties in the Hope 2002 (Espoir 2002) coalition replaced the Alliance for Democracy in Mali (Alliance pour la Démocratie au Mali—Adema) party as the predominant political force, controlling 66 of the 147 seats. The assembly holds two regular sessions each year, during which it debates and votes on legislation that has been submitted by a member or by the government. The constitution also empowers the assembly to question government ministers about government policy and actions.

Mali’s constitution provides for an independent judiciary, but the executive continues to exercise influence over the judiciary by virtue of its power to appoint judges and oversee both judicial functions and law enforcement. The judicial system includes the Supreme Court, which has both judicial and administrative powers, and a separate Constitutional Court, established in March 1994, that provides judicial review of legislative acts and serves as an election arbiter. According to the constitution, a High Court of Justice would be convened to try senior government officials for treason. Below the Supreme Court are three courts of appeal, seven courts of first instance, or Magistrates’ Courts, and labor courts. Lower-court decisions may be appealed up the hierarchy to the Supreme Court. Village chiefs and elders resolve most local disputes in rural areas.

Administrative Divisions: Mali is subdivided into eight administrative regions and a capital district: Gao, Kayes, Kidal, Koulikoro, Mopti, Ségou, Sikasso, and Tombouctou and the capital district of Bamako.

Provincial and Local Government: The eight regions and the capital district of Bamako are headed by appointed high commissioners. Each region is subdivided into five to nine districts (cercles) headed by préfets, which are in turn divided into communes, or municipalities, and then into villages or quarters. Communes are governed by elected mayors and elected local councils. As a result of a major restructuring of local government in 1999 and further minor revisions in 2001, the number of elected local councils increased from less than 20 to more than 700. The result of this decentralization has been less administrative control by the central government and greater local control over finances and issues such as health, education, and water supply. Local governments receive central government subsidies but also have the power to collect local taxes. The most recent local elections were held in May 2004.

Judicial and Legal System: Mali’s legal system is based on French civil law codes inherited at independence from France and on customary law. The constitution prohibits arbitrary arrest and detention and guarantees suspects the right to legal counsel. Court-appointed lawyers are provided free of charge to those who cannot afford legal representation. In principle, warrants are required to make arrests, and suspects are to be charged or released within 48 hours. However, in practice pretrial detention is often extended and trials significantly delayed because of administrative backlogs. Trials are public, except for minors. Defendants are presumed innocent and are entitled to be present at their trials, to have access to government evidence against them, and to confront witnesses. Decisions may be appealed to the Supreme Court.

Electoral System: The constitution provides for universal suffrage at age 18. The president is elected by popular vote to a five-year term, with a two-term limit. Members of the National Assembly are elected both directly and by party list to five-year terms, with elections held in two rounds. Representation in the assembly is apportioned based on the population of administrative districts. Mali’s most recent presidential election was held in May 2002; national parliamentary elections were held in July 2002. The next presidential election will be held in April 2007 and parliamentary elections in July 2007. Prior to the 2002 elections, the government conducted a general census and completed a new voters’ list with the support of all political parties, all of which then participated in the elections. According the U.S. Department of State’s 2003 human rights report, the 2002 presidential and legislative elections were judged to be generally free and fair despite some administrative irregularities, and local elections in 2004 received a similar rating.

Politics and Political Parties: The constitution provides for a multiparty democracy but prohibits parties based on ethnicity, religion, region, or gender. In 2002 Mali had a reported 87 active political groups. Sixteen national parties, grouped into several coalitions, and a handful of independents gained representation in the National Assembly based on the 2002 election results. In addition, other regional or local parties are active in local councils. The Hope 2002 (Espoir 2002) coalition, headed by the Rally for Mali (Rassemblement Pour le Mali—RPM) party, was the most successful coalition in the 2002 elections, winning 66 of the 147 seats in the National Assembly. The RPM-led coalition displaced the former ruling party, the Alliance for Democracy in Mali (Alliance Pour la Démocratie au Mali—Adema), which had won the National Assembly majority in the 1992 and 1997 elections, securing more than 80 percent of the seats. In 2002 Adema was part of the Alliance for the Republic and Democracy (Alliance pour la République et la Démocratie—ARD) coalition, which won 59 seats. No party or coalition won enough seats to hold a parliamentary majority. The president, an independent, appointed a government that included representatives from all of the parties that won seats in parliament as well as a number of independents and technocrats (many of whom were loosely organized for electoral purposes in the Citizen Movement, a civic organization that supported Touré in the presidential election). The administration voiced its intent to focus primarily on poverty reduction.

Mass Media: Freedom of speech and freedom of the press are guaranteed by the constitution and generally observed by the government. The Superior Council of Communication regulates the media. During election campaigns, the constitutionally mandated Committee of Equal Access to State Media is charged with guaranteeing that all political parties have equal access to government-controlled media. Radio is the primary means of mass communication. In practice, widespread poverty and the low literacy rate, as well as poor distribution outside of Bamako, limit access to television and print media. Mali has more than 125 radio stations as well as one television station. The former government-controlled radio and television broadcasting company is officially autonomous, but it has been accused by the political opposition of having a progovernment bias. There has been an explosion of print media since 1992 in conjunction with the initiation of multiparty democracy. In 2003 print media included 42 private newspapers and journals (39 in Bamako and one each in Tombouctou, Mopti, and Sikasso) published in French, Arabic, and various local languages. Newspapers must register with the Ministry of Communications, but registration is routine. The expression of a broad range of views, including those critical of the government, is permitted. Foreign radio programs are widely available through local media, and foreign satellite and cable television programs also are accessible, especially in Bamako. The government does not restrict access to or use of the Internet, but in practice Internet use is very limited because of the cost of computers and licenses to operate servers.

Foreign Relations: Following independence in 1960, Mali initially followed a socialist path and was aligned ideologically with the communist bloc. But Mali’s foreign policy orientation became increasingly pragmatic and pro-Western over time. Since the institution of a democratic form of government in 2002, Mali’s relations with the West in general and the United States in particular have improved significantly. U.S.-Malian relations are described by the U.S. Department of State as “excellent and expanding,” especially given Mali’s recent record of democratic stability in the volatile area of West Africa and its avowed support of the war on terrorism. Mali is reported to be one of the largest recipients of U.S. aid in Africa.

Mali has a longstanding relationship with France, its former colonial ruler, but relations have been described as ambivalent rather than close. Mali dropped out of the Franc Zone shortly after independence, not rejoining until 1967. One contentious issue between the two nations is the frequent expulsion of illegal Malian immigrants from France since 1996.

Mali is active in regional organizations such as the African Union. Working to control and resolve regional conflicts, such as in Côte d’Ivoire, Liberia, and Sierra Leone, is one of Mali’s major foreign policy goals. Mali feels threatened by the potential for the spillover of conflicts in neighboring states, and relations with those neighbors are often uneasy. General insecurity along borders in the north, including cross-border banditry and terrorism, remain troubling issues in regional relations.

Membership in International Organizations: Mali is a member of the United Nations and most of its specialized agencies, as well as a number of regional organizations. Major memberships include the African Development Bank, African Union, European Union (associate member), International Labour Organization, International Monetary Fund, International Telecommunication Union, Non-Aligned Movement, Organization of the Islamic Conference, Universal Postal Union, and World Bank. Mali is also an active participant in the Economic Community of West African States and the West African Economic and Monetary Union, as well as the Community of Sahel-Saharan States, Niger River Commission, Permanent Interstate Committee for Drought Control in the Sahel, and Senegal River Valley Development Organization.

Major International Treaties: Mali is a party to a number of international environmental conventions, including those on Biodiversity, Climate Change, Climate Change-Kyoto Protocol, Desertification, Endangered Species, Hazardous Wastes, Law of the Sea, Ozone Layer Protection, and Wetlands. Mali also has signed various international conventions and treaties covering biological and chemical weapons, genocide, human rights, and intellectual property, as well as the Geneva Conventions and the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons.

Last Updated: January 2005

Editor's Note: Country Studies included here were published between 1988 and 1998. The Country study for Mali was first published in 2005. Where available, the data has been updated through 2008. The date at the bottom of each section will indicate the time period of the data. Information on some countries may no longer be up to date. See the "Research Completed" date at the beginning of each study on the Title Page or the "Data as of" date at the end of each section of text. This information is included due to its comprehensiveness and for historical purposes.

Note that current information from the CIA World Factbook, U.S. Department of State Background Notes, Australia's Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade Country Briefs, the UK's Foreign and Commonwealth Office's Country Profiles, and the World Bank can be found on

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