Muslim groups in junta-led Niger urged voters to boycott a weekend referendum on a new constitution setting the terms of a return to civilian rule, complaining that it neglected Islam.
Sunday’s vote is the first in a series of elections due to end in the swearing-in of a new civilian leader by April next year, replacing the leaders of February’s coup against former president Mamadou Tandja.
The new constitution seeks to undo new presidential powers that Tandja had awarded to himself before being deposed, and to improve governance in the mining sector of a country which is nuclear-power France’s top uranium-supplier, Reuters reports.
It also formalises a separation of powers between the secular state and Islam in a country 98 percent of whose 15 million citizens are Muslim.
“Separating state and religion means quite simply that Allah does not figure as a priority in this state funded by the money of Muslims — that you can govern Nigeriens with all sorts of atheistic, anti-religious ideologies and ideas,” said Harouni Fodi of the Islamic association Anassi.
The country’s Muslim groups are seen as influential, having either blocked or forced changes in a number of planned reforms on family law or women’s rights in recent years.