With an oscillating voter turnout, between “40% and 90%”, a new constitution ratified in a plebiscite by Nigeriens… Announcements and results continue to flow in after Wednesday’s referendum, which vigorously and violently ordered by President Mamadou Tandja contrary to the country’s constitution. The Seventy something year old Nigerien President wishes to seek a third and possibly a life term. The polls were marked by clashes and arrests of opposition protestors who have labelled the elections “illegal”.
Even before the official results, posters celebrating the victory of the Nigerien president were posted on almost every wall in the Nigerien capital city of Niamey. “For your trust, thanks to all of you, His Excellency Mamadou Tandja,” reads one of the posters. The message is worth a million words, it is descriptive of the referendum that took place Tuesday in Niger. “It ridicules the very essence of our intelligence and constitution,” Seydou Ali, a Nigerien student, told Afrik-news.com.
The polling exercise, intended to change the constitution, was ordered by Mamadou Tandja to enable him to seek a third term. According to Nigerien observers, there was no election fever. The Nigerien capital looked like a “ghost town”. “Shops were closed, streets and polling centres deserted,” a Niamey resident said. The description given by people on the ground contradicts official figures announced Wednesday by the state media.
40 to 90% turnout rate
According Moumouni Hamidou, president of the Independent National Electoral Commission (CENI), turnout ranged between 40% and 90%. Partial results for 200 of the 19 000 polling stations indicated a huge “yes” vote in favour of the Constitutional change. According to the CENI, turnout was much higher in rural areas. In the northern town of Dilma, for example, turnout rate was 70.49%, with a 96.5% “yes” vote. However, in district #1 of the town of Zinder (second largest city), the abstention rate stood at 55.87% while the “yes” vote stood at 90%. The scenario could be worse in Niamey. According to unofficial supervisors, only 27 out of 500 voters had cast their vote at a polling station in the capital at as late as 5 pm.
Clashes and arrests
The referendum was punctuated by numerous clashes and arrests. Several opposition and police sources reported clashes in several towns in the west between demonstrators and the police. According to a police officer interviewed by AFP, the police used tear gas to disperse demonstrators who had blocked access to two polling stations in the region of Tahoua in the west. “Some Nigeriens ransacked certain ballot boxes that had been stuffed”, said Ali Idrissa, vice president of Dounia TV, a private television channel. Meanwhile, Amadou Seym, director of Dounia TV, was arrested Wednesday following the transmission of a report titled “Republic Records”. The documentrary highlighted corruption in Niger.
One against all
Despite repeated calls by the opposition to boycott the referendum, Mamadou Tandja has not budged. The President wishes to seek a third term despite a series of criticisms and condemnations from the international community. Defying international opinion, the Nigerien president said: “Are we going to die if they do not give us their money? Western countries hold regular referenda, is it because they give us food that they want to deny us the right to hold one? According to Seydou Ali, “the process was a travesty, Mamadou Tandja should have spared Nigeriens the waste of government resources just to clear his conscience and stayed in power. He has successfully organised his own surprise birthday party”.
Mamadou Tandja dissolved the Nigerien Parliament and the Constitutional Court after they both declared the referendum illegal, he now rules by decree by virtue of “exceptional powers” he has designed for himself.