Mediocre turnout in Niger’s referendum: official

Niger President Mamadou Tandja’s bid to stay in power beyond his term by referendum led to a mediocre turnout in the capital, the electoral commission announced Thursday.

In five Niamey districts, the turnout varied from about 31 to 56 percent, the commission said while issuing the results of about two-thirds of the votes across the large, deeply poor west African country.

Voters went to the polls on Wednesday for a constitutional referendum on making changes that would allow Tandja to stay in office until 2012 and then stand for election again.

Currently, Tandja, 71, is due to stand down by December 22 once his second five-year mandate expires, but he has forged ahead with the referendum in the face of stiff domestic opposition and amid high international concern.

By Thursday morning, the electoral commission had released poll results from the capital, other big towns, and some rural constituencies where the turnout was higher than in urban areas.

“We’ve already proclaimed the outcome from 165 communes out of 265,” the president of the independent national electoral commission (CENI), Moumouni Hamidou, said late Wednesday.

“Tomorrow (Thursday), there’s every chance of closing the proclamation of the full provisional results,” he added, stating that the turnout across Niger had varied between “40 and 90 percent.”

These early results give a strong “yes” vote to Tandja’s bid to change the constitution, and without waiting for publication of the full official figures, the president’s camp has already begun to thank the electorate.

“For your renewed confidence, to everyone, Thank You,” read large posters that have gone up in Niamey, signed by “His Excellency Mamadou Tandja, president of the Republic of Niger.”

Tandja has consistently claimed that his bid to cling to power is to fulfil “the will of the people,” but he ran into stiff opposition from both parliament and the constitutional court. He dissolved both, declared an emergency and has begun to rule by decree, also appointing a new constitutional court.

In the northern uranium mining city of Arlit, only just over 30 percent of residents voted, according to the CENI, while the abstention rate was more than half in Zinder, Niger’s second city, and in Maradi, the economic capital.

But where people voted, they apparently backed Tandja, and in Niamey, as in other parts of the country, the “yes” vote was a massive majority. In the five districts of the capital, it ranged from 87.5 percent to 97.9 percent.

The opposition had called for a boycott of the referendum, while France, the former colonial power, condemned Tandja’s “repeated attacks on democracy” and the international community at large tried to persuade him to call off the poll.

The European Union has threated Niger with economic sanctions.


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