Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Niger News Update: Opposition Vows to Fight President Tandja

NIAMEY 8 August 2009 Sapa-AFP


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

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

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.

BRUSSELS 10 August 2009 Sapa-AFP


Niger's ties with the EU could suffer unless President Mamadou
Tandja, winner of a controversial referendum last week, returns the
nation to "constitutional norms," Brussels warned Monday.

"I regret that the recent holding of a referendum in Niger was
outside the country's constitutional norms," said EU Development
Commissioner Karel De Gucht.

"A rapid return by President Tandja to those constitutional
norms would mean we don't have to open negotiations between the
European Union and Niger... and put our cooperation in danger," he

The warning came shortly after former colonial power France
urged Tandja to return to the democratic path after he won the
referendum vote on extending his rule, potentially for life.

Tandja, in power since 1999 in the uranium-rich country, won
92.5 percent of the August 4 vote, according to the official count.

De Gucht warned that Tandja's action could force the European
Union to suspend its cooperation under the Cotonou Agreement.

The agreement is a partnership deal between the EU and members
of the African, Caribbean and Pacific Group of States aimed at
tackling poverty while contributing to sustainable development.

The European Commission, the EU's executive arm, has voiced
strong concerns over recent political events in Niger.

Tandja suspended the constitutional court in June and the
dissolved the National Assembly amid a row over the referendum that modified the constitution to allow the president to serve a third

Niger: President Tandja Pushes Niger to the Brink of Political Conflict
Ebenezer Hanson

10 August 2009

Accra — President Mamadou Tandja of Niger is toying with his country like his personal property. Last Tuesday, the country held a referendum to adopt a new constitution which seeks to extend the President's stay in office three years beyond the expiration of his second-four year term in December 2009. The same constitution will permit him to contest the presidential seat for as many times he desires.

Prior to the referendum, which latest news says President Tandja had won, he declared a State of Emergency and had assumed emergency powers which enabled him to dissolve Parliament and the country's Constitutional Court. Incidentally, the Constitutional Court had on June 12, 2009 declared the referendum illegal in response to a complaint lodged by opposition parties.

It was the worrying state of affairs in the poor West African country which prodded the Media Foundation for West Africa (MFWA) to organize a public forum with the theme: "Niger- Democracy under Threat" aimed at reminding the public about the need to prevent another violent conflict in West Africa".

Constituional reforms in Niger is not a novelty and thus a non issue; the source of the dissent as revealed at the forum by a Nigerien journalist and human rights activist, Saidou Arji, was the issue of extension of the President's term, and the virtual infinite number of times President Tandja can contest presidential elections.

Tandja's insatiable lust for power is driving him to meddle with anything imaginable. According to Saidou, the President has also muzzled the media through restrictive laws. For instance, the electronic media is prohibited from running live programmes on current situation.

"He has amended the law governing the High Council of Communication, the media regulatory body and gave to Mr. Daouda Diallo, president of this institution and also representative of the President of the Republic on the High Council, the power to take all sanctions against the media, including closure, without consulting his nine colleagues on the council. This situation represents a major threat to independent media whose fate depends on the High Council of Communication," Saidou bemoaned.

He said only recently eight editors were summoned by the High Council of Communication for publishing a story on a uranium contract involving the President's son. "Although the substance of the story has not been denied the allegation being made against the editors is that the documents they used for the story were leaked to them".

In the past not less than 100 people have constituted the constitutional committee but President Tandja put together a five-member committee including his Justice Minister to review the Constitution. Additionally, under the country's laws elections could not be held under a State of Emergency but the President has disregarded all the rules and is running the country in the manner he wants, he further revealed.

Saidou regretted the negative diplomatic consequences which are likely to befall Niger as a result of the high handedness of President Tandja. The European Union has decided to freeze part of its disbursements meant to support the country's budget.

He predicted that if the situation escalates into a conflict, it would lead to an increase in the circulation of small arms and light weapons in the country and this may spread to other parts of the subregion. "It would lead to population displacements with its attendant refugees moving in droves into neighbouring border countries like Nigeria, Chad and Burkina Faso.

Mr. Kwasi Adu-Amankwah, the Secretary General of the African Regional Organisation of the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC-Africa) in a statement read on his behalf by Ugonna Duru, Programme Officer, Media Law Reform & Legal Defence of MFWA, called on ECOWAS, AU, UN and the entire International Community to ensure that constitutional legality and democracy are respected in Niger.

"The unilateral decision taken by President Mamadou Tandja to hold a referendum on August 4, 2009 for the sole purpose of extending his tenure in office without any due regard for Niger's Constitution and the views of the people is an affront to democracy. The majority of the people of Niger and the entire International Community have loudly objected to this move, describing it as selfish, illegitimate and unconstitutional".

The ITUC-Africa, he says, salutes the pro-democratic forces of Niger for their bravery, resilience and courage in the defence and promotion of democracy and fundamental liberties, especially during this difficult period in the history of their country.

Mr. Emmanuel Bombande, Executive Director of the West African Network for Peace Building (WANEP), who chaired the Forum said the on-goings in Niger make a compelling reason to revisit the ECOWAS Protocols and the AU Constitutive Act. While urging Africans not to keep mute over illegalities perpetrated by their leaders he also acknowledged the fact that in Africa "poverty freezes people's lips".

The Executive Secretary of the MFWA, Prof Kwame Karikari, was of the view that events in Niger tend to reinforce the belief that "it appears that Africans are ordained to live with problems which are foisted on their populations by their leaders".

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