Citizens of Niger head for the polls Tuesday to vote on a custom made referendum ordered by President Mamadou Tandja who wishes to run for president against all legal principles in his country. He wishes to remain eligible to run for president as long as he lives. With civil society running amok and opposition parties crying foul, the days ahead could very well be marked by drawn daggers on both sides.
The political atmosphere in Niger has been marked by an eerie calm since Sunday. But appearances are deceptive; the opposition is still seething with anger. So could it be the calm before the storm? Speaking with Afik.com Ali Idrissa, director of Dounia TV, a private television channel in Niger, said, “the tension here is visible”. “In Niamey (the capital), the police can be seen at every intersection and patrolling every street ahead of the referendum,” he said. Voters will go to the polls on Tuesday in a very tensed atmosphere in Niger. They are to decide on whether or not to adopt a new Constitution that will enable the President of Niger, Mamadou Tandja, seek a third term or possibly a life term. “To ensure the safety of civilians who will be voting on August 4”, the country’s armed forces voted Monday, a day ahead of the polling exercise.
Nigeriens against Tandja?
The referendum comes in a backdrop of increasing arrests of journalists and critics of the ruling government. As many as eight heads of private weekly newspapers were arrested on Saturday after they implicated one of President Mamadou Tandja’s sons in a corruption case. Some of them, including Abdoulaye Tiemogou, the director of Le Canard Dechainé (the unleashed duck), are still in detention at the central prison of Niamey. These arrests, which take place on “nearly daily basis”, give the opposition the impetus to defend democracy with the “support of the Nigerien population.” “The people are fed up. Niger is a resource-rich country, but corruption is tearing it apart. The educational system is in ruins. Once free of charge, medical care is now paid for. How could they (Nigeriens) support their president?” Ali Idrissa said.
The opposition in the starting blocks
Sunday, the Coordination of Democratic Forces for the Republic (CFDR) launched a last call for “a general mobilisation to wreck the referendum.” There is no more time for rallies and demonstrations but to boycott the voting exercise. According Issifou Sidibé, Secretary General of the Confederation of Workers of Niger (CDTN), “the President has ridiculed the democratic force.” “We are determined to block the Tandja’s designs,” he explains without revealing the opposition’s strategy for the set objective. “We will prevent the holding of the referendum under Article 113 of the Constitution, which stipulates that no person shall be allowed to execute a manifestly illegal act,” said Marou Amadou, president of the United Front for the safeguarding of democratic gains (FUSADES). Having dissolved the Parliament and the Constitutional Court after they both declared the referendum illegal, Mamadou Tandja now rules by decree by virtue of “exceptional powers” he designed for himself.
The illegality of the exercise was condemned by the opposition in a complaint filed against the president of Niger for having “violated the constitutional order.” The decision was made at a symposium on governance and political transitions in Niger that took place in Abuja, capital of Nigeria, from 31 July to 1 August. The symposium brought several representatives of civil society organisations in West Africa together.
The opposition will not give up and neither will the president. The Minister of Interior, Albade Abouba, in a speech Saturday sent “a final warning to all those who would be involved in acts of violence before, during or after the polls.” “Strict general instructions have been given to prevent and severely punish any act that would disrupt the exercise,” the minister warned on state media.