The President of Niger releases his “new” constitution. Can the opposition slow him down?
President Tandja Mamadou‘s aspiration to be President for life got a bit more clear today, with the release of his proposed Constitution of the 6th Republic of Niger. His plan for a 4 August referendum, opposed by political parties, civil society, and every other body of the republic, is set to go ahead.
The planned Constitution of the Sixth Republic of Niger, released today, contains no real surprises. It gives Tandja a “free” term as President until 2012 elections, and no term limits after this. A Senate is created to complement a smaller National Assembly. The unconditional amnesty is for the coup leaders who brought on the 199 elections Tandja won is extended. This will be the end of the support for Tandja by the RDP-JAMA’A, the party of the assassinated President Ibrahim Baré Maïnassara (himself a coup leader) who Tandja replaced in 1999. That leaves only a couple of tiny parties supporting Tandja. Which I’m sure he’s fine with, should he muscle his new constitution through.
That’s because the most striking thing about this proposed constitution is what’s not there: any checks on the President’s powers. Having read though the 1999 Constitution on a number of occasions, this new document seems like someone went through the previous document with a marker and crossed out any references to the powers of every other constitutional body, and replaced it with “The President may decree” or “to be regulated by future law” (which the President will decree). He appoints the courts, he ratifies treaties, chooses members of commissions and offices, he can create constitutional changes through plebiscite whenever he so chooses. Let me make this clear, this is not the constitution of Presidential Republic: it’s the blueprint of a dictatorship.
And it would be funny if it were not so sad. Reading though it, I couldn’t help but think of the Franco-Nigerien comedian Mamane’s stories about the “Very Very Democratic Republic of Gondwana” (“République très très démocratique du Gondwana”), and its faultless “President-Founder.”
It parallels a much less comic state, the Republic of Congo, whose President Sassou-Nguesso is already projected winner in the first round of an election which will take place two days in the future. Congo-Brazzaville and Gabon are Tandja’s models for Niger, with Uranium replacing oil.
Congolese blogger “Pangolin” printed a satire yesterday that is more anger than laughter: “The Single Candidate heads to a singular victory in a single round.”
Niamey today, like contemporary Brazzaville, or like a very unfunny “Gondwana City” has that same degree of malevolent surrealism, where everything is so clearly a cardboard front for an intolerant government, but no one dares say so.
The Nigerien state Paper/Broadcaster Le Sahel is a prime example. Always bland, Le Sahel has slipped into unreality, leading with meetings of minor bureaucrats and school exams. It’s as much reminiscent of Pyongyang as it is Mamane’s comic “Radio Y’a foï”, an Ivorian slang title meaning “Radio Everything’s Fine”.
But things are not fine. And while President-Founder of the Sixth Republic Tandja may be isolated, no one yet has found a way to stop him. We’ll soon see if anyone can.
- Read the Proposed Constitution on French WikiSource.
- Le Pagolin Blog at Afrikblog
- Mamane at RFI. Download podcasts of his radio series, including his letters from “République très très démocratique du Gondwana.”
- Niger referendum critics plan to boycott, block vote 10 July 2009, Reuters, Abdoulaye Massalatchi
- Niger moves to ‘gag’ media ahead of referendum. 09 July 2009 Pana News
- Une crise touche de plein fouet le parti au pouvoir. RFI, 09 July 2009
- Niger : La justice annule un congrès du parti au pouvoir. AFP 9 July 2009
- Niger referendum aims to bring back ‘democracry': minister. AFP 7 July 2009
- Electoral commission boss quits ahead of controversial referendum. AFP 07 July 2009
- Niger opposition members quit electoral agency. AFP 08 July 2009
- Niger : Une partie de l’opposition claque la porte de la Ceni. RFI, 08 July 2009
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- Low Turnout May Mar Congo Republic Election (nytimes.com)
- Congo poll to open amid veto call (news.bbc.co.uk)
- Niger ‘must return to democracy’ (news.bbc.co.uk)
- Niger’s President Extends Tenure (nytimes.com)
UPDATE: Carnet de Voyage : Mamane existe, je l’ai rencontré. Adam Thiam, Le Républicain, (Bamako) 05/10/2009