ECOWAS suspends Niger in dispute over constitution

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) has suspended Niger for refusing to postpone a legislative election. The regional alliance wanted Niger to delay the vote, which was held on Tuesday, to allow for political dialogue following a controversial referendum that has extended the president's time in office.

"ECOWAS will not recognize the outcome of today's elections in Niger," the alliance said in a statement.

ECOWAS followed through on its threat to suspend Niger after President Mamadou Tandja went ahead with legislative vote. Tandja ignored last-minute appeals by ECOWAS leaders to delay the poll, saying that election preparations were too far advanced.

Niger president Mamadou Tandja

The regional alliance asked him to indefinitely suspend the election in favor of political dialogue to resolve a political crisis sparked by an August referendum that changed the constitution to extend the president's time in office.

"ECOWAS is already in touch with the African Union to put the Niger file also on the agenda of the African Union Peace and Security Council, which would also lead to the United Nations taking a similar decision," said Abdel Fatau Musah, the political director of the ECOWAS alliance. "And we know that our partners, like the European Union, are also considering very severed measures against President Tandja and the authorities in Niger for blatantly casting aside their constitution, which actually forbids their president from going beyond two terms."

Opposition parties have been boycotting this vote for 113 legislators to replace the parliament Tandja dismissed when it said his constitutional referendum was illegal. The president dismissed the country's constitutional court when it reached the same conclusion.

Alat Mogaskiya, one of the founders of Niger's Party for Democracy and Socialism, said that Tandja had the legal authority to dismiss parliament, but ignored the constitutional mandate to have new elections to replace those lawmakers within 90 days. He claimed that the new Tandja government is illegal and illegitimate, because the referendum extending the president's term was unconstitutional.

Ruling party communications secretary Issoufou Tamboura said the opposition boycott will have no impact on the vote, just as its boycott of the referendum had no effect on changing the constitution. Tamboura said the boycott will not stop the new government from continuing its work and electing a new assembly. Parties are free to join or boycott the vote as they choose.

He added that the boycott will not affect the credibility of this vote, because the ruling party is the country's largest and it is taking part. Some other smaller parties are also participating. He said his party believes this election will be credible.