Mali’s ruling junta on Monday announced a delay to a presidential election scheduled for February that was aimed at returning civilian leaders to power in the jihadist-hit West African nation.The two rounds of voting — initially set for February 4 and 18, 2024 — “will be slightly postponed for technical reasons”, government spokesman Abdoulaye Maiga said in a statement read out to reporters. Those reasons include issues linked to the adoption this year of a new constitution and a review of the electoral lists, he said.He also cited a dispute with French company Idemia, which the junta says is involved in the census process.”The new dates for the presidential election will be communicated later,” Maiga said.Authorities are also refusing to organise legislative elections, initially scheduled for the end of 2023, before the presidential election.The junta “has decided to organise, exclusively, the presidential election”, the statement said.Other elections will be held on a schedule “established by the new authorities, under the directives of the new president”. The postponement is yet another delay to the junta’s schedule for handing back power to elected civilians.The soldiers, who carried out back-to-back coups in 2020 and 2021, had earlier promised legislative elections for February 2022.But the junta, led by Assimi Goita, announced at the end of 2021 that it was unable to respect the timetable agreed with the regional bloc ECOWAS. It said it needed more time to carry out deep reforms.- Security situation -In response, ECOWAS in early 2022 imposed heavy sanctions on Mali, severely affecting the poor and landlocked country. It lifted them the following July when the junta agreed to leave power in March 2024, and announced an electoral calendar that set the presidential election for February 2024.The junta had also scheduled a constitutional referendum for March 2023, which finally took place in June. Critics of the new constitution describe it as tailor-made to keep the junta in power beyond the presidential election.Since Mali’s back-to-back putsches, West Africa has seen a series of military coups, including in Burkina Faso and Niger, which have also been hit by jihadism and violence, as well as in Guinea.The militaries in each case have said they are carrying out “transitions” before a return to “constitutional order”. Mali currently faces heightened activity by jihadist groups and a resumption of hostilities in the north by armed separatist groups.Since August, there has been a series of attacks against army positions and civilians in the Timbuktu and Gao regions. The junta pushed out France’s anti-jihadist force in 2022 and the UN peacekeeping mission MINUSMA in 2023. It has turned politically and militarily towards Russia. Monday’s statement made no mention of recent security developments, saying only that junta leader Goita intends “to return to a peaceful and secure constitutional order, after carrying out as a priority institutional political reforms”.