Niger opposition vows to fight ‘dictatorship’

Niger’s opposition on Saturday rejected a new constitution that paves the way for President Mamadou Tandja to potentially rule for life and pledged to fight what it termed a “dictatorship”.

“We are going to continue to defend the constitution of August 9, 1999, that the people of Niger have shown their attachment to by rejecting the new one proposed by President Tandja,” said opposition leader Mamadou Issoufou.

“We are going to resist and fight against this coup d’etat enacted by President Tandja and against his aim of installing a dictatorship in our country,” Issoufou said.

It was the first opposition reaction to the contested referendum, forced by Tandja in the uranium-rich west African nation.

Issoufou, an outspoken opponent of Tandja’s regime, is also a member of the umbrella opposition coalition, the Forces for the Coordination of Democratic Forces for the Republic (CFDR).

Niger’s electoral commission said Tuesday’s controversial referendum on constitutional changes to remove limits on the president on serving more than two terms had been approved by a vote of 92.5 percent.

Issoufou contested the 68.26 percent turnout figure given by the national election commission.

“On the basis of results from 50 percent of the polling stations in our possession … turnout was less than five percent,” he said.

Tandja, 71, whose mandate was set to expire this year, has consistently claimed that his bid to stay in office is to fulfil “the will of the people.”

In order to obtain the necessary constitutional changes Tandja dissolved the country’s top court and parliament, which opposed him, and assumed emergency powers.

The referendum will allow the veteran soldier, in power since 1999, to remain in office beyond the December 22 end of his tenure and thereafter seek unlimited mandates.

The amendment beefs up the president’s powers by making him the “sole holder of executive power.” The president will head the army, name the prime minister and have complete control over the cabinet.

The new constitution also provides for a two-chamber parliament. Niger currently does not have a senate.

The membership of the powerful constitutional court has risen from seven to nine and the president, according to the new law, has the power to appoint five of them, whereas previously it was only one.

Tandja has in the past won accolades for bringing stability to Niger and improving the state of the economy of the world’s third largest uranium producer.

But his plan to extend his mandate indefinitely has been condemned both at home and abroad.


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