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ECOWAS Suspends Niger in Dispute Over Constitution

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

ECOWAS followed through on its threat to suspend Niger when President Mamadou Tandja went ahead with Tuesday's legislative vote.

Mr. Tandja ignored last-minute appeals by ECOWAS leaders to delay the poll, saying preparations were too far advanced. 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 are boycotting this vote for 113 legislators to replace the parliament President 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 is one of the founders of Niger's Party for Democracy and Socialism. He says President Tandja had the legal authority to dismiss parliament, but ignored the constitutional mandate to have new elections to replace those lawmakers within 90 days.

Mogaskiya says the new Tandja government is illegal and illegitimate because the referendum extending the president's term was unconstitutional. He says everyone in Niger who is a democrat should ignore all of the new government's decisions.

That includes these legislative elections and local government elections, all of which Mogaskiya says are illegal and illegitimate. So opposition parties are not taking part.

Ruling party communications secretary Issoufou Tamboura says 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 says 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.

Tamboura says 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 says his party believes this election will be credible.

This vote will further consolidate President Tandja's power, giving him a new assembly to go along with a newly-appointed constitutional court, another three years in office, and the end of presidential term limits.