Niger President Mamadou Tandja reappointed his government without changes, his first act under a new constitution that has allowed him to extend his rule over the uranium-rich Saharan nation.
The formality marked a switch to a full-blown presidential system in which cabinet members will answer to Tandja rather than a prime minister, raising fears of authoritarianism and unrest in a nation where al Qaeda is active, Reuters reports.
“Tandja is calling the shots and the rest of the world is going to have to get used to it,” said Richard Reeve, independent political risk analyst based in London.
Tandja also scheduled elections for October 20 to replace the parliament, dissolved by the leader in May to remove an obstacle to his constitutional reign.
Critics at home and abroad say Tandja’s tightened grip on power is a step back for democracy and could trigger instability in Niger, which is the scene of al Qaeda activity and a Tuareg insurgency.
The government of Niger briefly stepped down earlier this week to allow Tandja to pick his new team. But the prime minister and all 32 other ministers were reinstalled, according to an official communique read over state radio.
Tandja, whose presidency was to end after the completion of his second term in December, won broader powers and an extended mandate in a widely criticised referendum earlier this month.
Opposition leaders denounced the reported 90 % vote in favour of the constitutional change as fraudulent and said the referendum was tantamount to a coup d’etat.
Tandja has argued the people of Niger want him to stay to oversee multibillion-dollar oil, mining and infrastructure deals which could transform the impoverished country’s economy.
French state-owned energy firm Areva is building a €1.2 billion (R13 billion) uranium mine in the north of the country, while China National Petroleum Corp last year signed a $5 billion (R39 billion) oil deal with Niger.
Niger’s controversial referendum was one of a string of questionable votes in West Africa this year that analysts said may incite further power grabs on an unstable continent.
Pic: President Tandja Mamadou of Niger