Early count shows Niger’s Tandja extending power


Niger’s President Mamadou Tandja looks set to secure another three years in power after this week’s controversial referendum on changing the constitution, partial returns indicated on Wednesday.

Niger citizens voted on Tuesday in a plebiscite to give Tandja, whose second and final term in power expires in December, three extra years in office without an election.

Tandja’s allies say that will allow him to oversee multibillion-dollar investment projects in the poor Saharan country, a producer of uranium.

International bodies, other countries and domestic rivals have criticised the power bid as undemocratic and a potential cause of national instability.

“We have the results from 37 constituencies out of 265 and they are saying “yes”, though it is too early to make general conclusions,” electoral commission president Moumouni Hamidou said, adding he expected full results by Thursday or Friday.

In two of the constituencies where votes had been counted, around 90 percent were in favour of the constitutional change that would allow Tandja to remain in office.

Hamidou said turnout was reported at around 45 percent. However many of Niger’s citizens, most of whom cannot read, appeared largely indifferent to Tuesday’s vote and urban polling stations were quiet.

In the last presidential election in 2004, turnout was only 31 percent.

NIGERIAN CONCERNS

Tandja has brushed off international criticism by arguing he is answerable only to his people. He says they want him to stay on to oversee projects such as a Chinese oil deal, a uranium mining project with France’s Areva (CEPFi.PA) and a hydro-electric dam that could transform Niger’s economy.

Neighbour and regional powerhouse Nigeria became the latest country to criticise his plan when President Umaru Yar’Adua raised concern at what he called the “self-succession plan”.

“Nigeria and Niger are brother nations with very special ties and whatever affects one affects the other,” he said, speaking to Niger’s outgoing ambassador to Nigeria.

“This is not what can be described as an internal affair of Niger Republic because within (regional economic group) ECOWAS and the African Union, we have subscribed to certain principles like democracy and good governance,” Yar’Adua said.

Reuters.com

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