Niger’s president dissolves parliament


Niger‘s president yesterday dissolved parliament hours after the constitutional court in the uranium-mining country blocked moves designed to allow him a third term in office.

The court ruled against President Mamadou Tandja’s plan to hold a referendum on a law permitting him a third term, saying the move was illegal, Reuters adds.

Tandja’s bid to change the constitution has already sparked demonstrations as well as splits in his coalition government, and analysts say it risks creating deeper instability.

Tandja is due to complete his second five-year term in power later this year but the desert state’s government, which is due to increase its uranium revenues significantly, wants a vote on constitutional changes to allow him to run in November polls.

“On the advice of the prime minister and the speaker of parliament, the president of the republic signed today, May 26, 2009, a decree dissolving parliament,” state radio said, without giving any further details.

Niger is due to hold legislative elections by Nov. 28 but, according to the constitution, a new parliament will now have to be elected within three months.

The government has said Tandja would take the advice of the constitutional court and of parliament, but not be bound by their decisions on the third term issue.

There was no immediate presidential announcement on a new election date or further clarification.

Tandja’s actions have drawn criticism from home and abroad.

Regional body ECOWAS warned that nearby countries could hit Niger with economic sanctions if it behaved undemocratically.

Around 20 000 people took to the streets this month to protest against the plan. At the weekend, some 20 political parties and civil groups formed an anti-referendum coalition, the Front for the Defence of Democracy (FDD).

“Recent events point to some dangerous evolutions in Niger,” said Richard Moncrieff, West Africa analyst at the International Crisis Group. “In the context of rising uranium revenues the attempt by the President to extend his mandate has split the political class, including his own governing coalition.”

“The history of the country shows that the military tend to step in to arbitrate crises like this, and the current international ambiguity surrounding military coups in Africa is indicative of the dangers this poses,” he told Reuters.

Alioune Tine, president of regional rights body RADDHO, said: “This (dissolution) looks like a political coup d’etat. This political mistake is deeply regrettable … Niger cannot take a step back after all the efforts.”

Resources firms are increasingly targeting Niger for investment in its uranium deposits. France‘s state-owned Areva runs two mines and is developing Imouraren, another project in the north.

Areva expects Imouraren, due to cost 1.2 billion euros ($1.68 billion), will be the biggest in Africa, and make Niger one of the world’s top sources of the nuclear fuel.

Niger has also signed major uranium deals with China and South Korea, and several other firms are exploring for the nuclear fuel in Niger.

Still, the region remains unstable as Tandja is trying to end a two-year rebellion by Tuareg nomads and control smuggling while security experts fear al Qaeda-linked groups operate.

Other African leaders have abolished term limits, though not without opposition.

Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika was allowed by deputies to stand for a third term, which he won in April.

Cameroon‘s President Paul Biya changed the constitution last year, a move which sparked rioting.

Former Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo’s bid was rejected by lawmakers.