Mali's transitional government initially agreed to hold elections in February 2022, but the military junta now says return to civilian rule may take up to five years due to security issues.

Mali remains under sanctions by the 15-nation West African regional bloc ECOWAS, amid uncertainty about details of the transition period.
Mali remains under sanctions by the 15-nation West African regional bloc ECOWAS, amid uncertainty about details of the transition period. (AP)

Mali's military-dominated government has suggested that the poor Sahel country might take five years to return to democratic rule after holding a four-day "reform conference".

A transition of between six months and five years will enable the junta to "carry out structural institutional reforms and organise credible, fair and transparent elections", according to a document read out at the end of the forum on Thursday.

"The government will put in place a timetable aimed at ensuring a peaceful and secure constitutional restoration," junta leader Assimi Goita said in a closing speech.

Also on Thursday, a member of Goita's entourage said the junta would send a delegation to the regional grouping ECOWAS to present the planned timetable.

Foreign Minister Abdoulaye Diop will be among the envoys, the official said.

The postponement of promised elections sparked international condemnation and sanctions from ECOWAS, the Economic Community of West African States.

ECOWAS has promised to impose more sanctions if Mali does not produce a plan for February elections by December 31.

READ MORE: Mali launches national forum on returning to civilian rule

New election calendar by January end

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.

The proposed election timetable comes at a delicate time politically. 

France is reducing its military presence in the north while Russia has sent private military contractors to train Malian troops, a move Western powers worry is the beginning of a wider Russian deployment.

READ MORE: Western powers slam 'deployment' of Russian Wagner mercenaries in Mali

Keita's ouster

In August 2020, young officers led by Goita toppled the country's elected president, Ibrahim Boubacar Keita, after weeks of street protests over perceived corruption and his handling of a bloody insurgency.

Under pressure from France and Mali's neighbours, Goita pledged that Mali would return to civilian rule in February 2022 after holding presidential and legislative elections.

But in May this year, he staged a de facto second coup, forcing out an interim civilian government and disrupting the timetable.

The former French colony has a long history of national consultations.

But several major parties and social organisations have snubbed the process this time, demanding the swift holding of elections or criticising the discussions as fruitless.

A prolonged transition back to democracy could isolate Mali from its neighbours and from former colonial power France that has thousands of soldiers deployed there against insurgents linked to Al Qaeda and Daesh.

It could also undermine democracy in West and Central Africa where military coup leaders in Chad and Guinea are also under pressure to organise elections and give up power.

READ MORE: West African leaders warn Mali junta against delaying elections

Source: TRTWorld and agencies