Stifled by a wave of lawsuits that has become the order of the day, the Nigerien opposition has shown their strongest determination, yet, to fight against authoritarianism by announcing their intention to boycott parliamentary elections set for October 20. President Mamadou Tandja has been ruling with an iron fist since an unconstitutional reform in August that gave him the power to run for president as many times as he wishes. He also intends to use the elections to expand his influence in Parliament by putting his own men in strategic positions. Last May, he dissolved the National Assembly after they refused to vote in favour of a referendum on the disputed reform. It was an indirect way of revealing their disagreement with Tandja’s decision to stand for a third term in 2012.
“We must boycott the forthcoming October 20 parliamentary elections,” the Nigerien opposition, Coalition of Democratic Forces for the Republic (FRDC), noted. This means that electoral campaign, which begins from September 28 (Monday) to October 18, could cover a much broader issue than the mere renewal of parliamentary positions. According to the opposition, Niger’s democracy is at stake.
President Mamadou Tandja, who has served for 10 years already, last May dissolved the National Assembly, which had overtly condemned the campaign that later led to an unconstitutional reform. The house had opposed the holding of a referendum on whether or not the president should run for a third consecutive term. The referendum, which finally took place in August, has been the subject of numerous controversies. According to the President, the election, which was boycotted and not recognized by the opposition, supports his bid with up to 92.5% of the votes. Tandja, now endowed with greater powers, can form a government unopposed, and even run as many times as he wishes as president. In theory, his presidential mandate ends in December, but under the new Constitution, Tandja may remain in power for at least three more years. This new constitutional provision has been dictatorially customized and “cannot be subject to any revision,” whatsoever!
Spokes in the wheel… a pebble in the shoe
A planned FRDC demonstration planned for last Saturday in the capital Niamey was banned for non-compliance of the statutory five day period needed to organize such a demonstration. In his speech the same day, Mahamadou Issoufou, opposition leader of the Nigerien Party for Democracy and Socialism (PNDS), said that the demonstration was “severely repressed” by a police force that is more akin to “malevolence”.
The Coalition, which includes parties, unions, associations, human rights and other civil society organizations, has been under intense government sponsored judicial attacks for several months. No fewer than 124 former parliamentarians have been summoned to court on charges of embezzlement of public funds, which unofficially translates into not-being-a-supporter of Tandja’s thirst for power. Thirty parliamentarians are currently on parole.
Depite the abuse of power, the Justice system cannot be considered as being entirely under Tandji’s “orders” after it ruled in favour of Issoufou, last week. September 10, the President of the PNDS, described by Fasozine as a “pebble in Tandja’s shoe,” was stopped from boarding a Niamey-Cotonou bound flight by airport police who also confiscated his passport. The judge reminded those behind the arrest of the importance of the presumption of innocence and ordered that Issoufou’s papers be given back to him.
The embezzlement accusations are expected to stop, according to Tandja’s camp, where his own interests begin. Several journalists have paid the cost of being too vocal about the state of events. Ibrahim Soumana Gaoh, director of Témoin for example, was put behind bars, last week, September 22, for revealing a possible involvement of former Communications Minister Mohamed Ben Omar in a financial embezzlement scandal. Tiémogo Abdoulaye, Director of Le Canard Déchainé, has also been sitting in a prison cell since August 18. Abdoulaye is serving a three month sentence for having published a comment from former Prime Minister Hama Amadou about an arrest warrant issued against him. “From injustice, Niger authorities have now added cruelty. Not only is Abdoulaye Tiémogo innocent, but he is sick and we demand that he gets the care he needs,” announced Reporters Without Borders (RSF), September 1.
Members of human rights associations have also been arrested. This includes Marou Amadou, president of the United Front for the safeguarding of democratic gains in Niger (FUSAD). He was only recently discharged after serving a one month prison term for managing his association without the necessary legal authorisation. Beatings were reported during his trial in August, a sign of mounting tension. After his release, Amadou initially preferred to go into hiding for a few days “in a safe place, whilst awaiting” guarantees “for his safety,” according to a statement from him reported by Temoust.org.
Mahamadou Issoufou Saturday cautioned with care that Niger is ranked last by the United Nation’s Human Development Index (HDI) among 177 countries. This reminder serves to bring awareness to the disastrous consequences of the undiluted dictatorial maneuvers that the President Tandja administration has resorted to for several months now. Opposition political organizations critical of the regime are all limited in their expression, by virtue of judicial intimidation. Meanwhile, the president, who has total control over the new Constitution and government, is now appointing ministers of trust into the Assembly, to prevent anyone from opposing him. With Ben Omar expected to chair the Assembly, which is to be elected October 20, the end of essential opposition counter balance in the country’s legislature has been foretold.