Regional mediators put forth a plan on Sunday that would require Mali’s embattled president to form a unity government but some opposition members immediately rejected the proposals as they allow him to stay in power.
President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita, who still has three years left in his final term, has faced demonstrations by tens of thousands seeking his resignation since early June in the West African nation.
Those calls intensified after recent protests met a violent response from security forces. At least 11 people died over three days of unrest last week following an anti-Keita protest, in the worst political unrest the West African state has seen in years.
The political tensions have created further unrest in a country already battling a range of armed groups.
Protests were put on hold during talks with mediators from the 15-nation regional bloc known as ECOWAS. Amid signs of an impasse, Ivorian President Alassane Ouattara made plans to arrive on Monday in Mali’s capital of Bamako.
The mediators had proposed that the current ruling coalition make up 50 percent of a new unity government, while a proposed 30 percent should be members of the opposition and the remaining 20 percent from civil society groups.
Also among the suggestions from the ECOWAS team were some already endorsed by Keita: resolving the dispute over 31 contested legislative races several months after Mali’s constitutional court issued official results.
The president has dissolved the controversial court, one of the protesters’ key demands. Keita has said he is open to reholding the legislative election in those contested areas though no concrete plan has been laid out yet. The mediators, though, said their recommendations should be put into place this month.
Some within the opposition quickly dismissed the ECOWAS team’s recommendations, saying Mali’s president should leave entirely. Opposition leader Choguel Maiga said the ECOWAS plan does not reflect the goals of a movement “supported by the overwhelming majority of the Malian people”.
However, ECOWAS does not see Keita’s negotiated exit as a possibility, its president Jean-Claude Kassi Brou said.
“The resignation of the Malian president is a red line for us, but everything else is negotiable,” he said on Sunday.
Unlike some uprisings in West Africa, the crisis in Mali involves a president who was elected – and then re-elected – in elections deemed fair and transparent. Forcing the president to step down because of growing unpopularity could set a dangerous precedent for other leaders in the region.
ECOWAS has a long history in mediating in Mali. It helped bring about a return to democracy in 2013, a year after a military coup deposed the president of a decade.
Keita won the 2013 vote, but his popularity has fallen amid allegations of corruption and as Mali’s conflict has deepened under his leadership.
France led a military operation to remove armed groups from northern Mali not long before Keita took office. In the years since, those groups have continued to launch attacks on Malian forces and UN peacekeepers.
Armed groups also have gained a foothold in central Mali where their presence has inflamed tensions between ethnic groups, leading to further violence.
Manu Lekunze of the University of Aberdeen, told Al Jazeera that the president understands the historical issues in the country but had few choices.
“It is very complicated. You have issues with Islamic groups, you have issues with tribes, you have issues with poverty. You have a government which simply does not have the means to control the entire country.
“You have a type of state which the people are now saying they do not want. People at the protests … want a more Islamic politics, which does not quite suit what Boubacar Keita stands for, [which is] the kind of state that is accepted by the international community and he is there to more or less enforce it whether the people want it or not.”