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Niger President to Hold Referendum on 3rd Term

Niger's ruling party said it is pressing ahead with a referendum to allow President Mamadou Tandja to run for a third term. The country's constitutional court opposes the move.

President Tandja wants to change Niger's constitution to extend his time in office beyond the end of his second term later this year.

The country's constitutional court this week said that would be unlawful. President Tandja's political party said the court's decision is not binding. Tamboura Issoufou directs communications for the ruling party's political office.

Issoufou said the advice of the constitutional court is only advice and does not compel the president to follow that advice. He can make his own decision about the referendum as the courts decided in 2002 that the president alone has the authority to call a referendum.

A day after the constitutional court came out against the end of term limits, President Tandja dissolved parliament. Opposition parliamentarian Kala Hankoraw said the president wrote to legislators about the referendum but sent them home before they could respond.

Referendum pros and cons

Hankoraw said he understands why the president decided not to consult with parliament. He said Mr. Tandja is afraid of the negative position of the constitutional court and the National Assembly given the equally negative response from all political parties, civil society groups, and trade unions.

Issoufou said dissolving parliament had nothing to do with the court decision.

Issoufou said it was in the best interest of the nation that President Tandja dissolved parliament because people have been criticizing the overall behavior of legislators for many months, including their decision to ignore a court ruling concerning their allowances.

Issoufou said the ruling party firmly supports the president in whatever fight is necessary in a democratic manner to adopt a new constitution that better conforms with social realities.

Opposition says poll poorly planned

Hankoraw agreed it is the president's constitutional right to call a referendum, but he said the move is poorly planned.

Hankoraw said if someone tells you that you can do anything, it does not mean you can do whatever you want, whenever you want. What you do must conform with what is best for the nation. He asked: Is it in the best interest of the nation to dissolve parliament six months before it expires, organize elections that will cost a lot of money, and leave a parliamentary vacuum?

Hankoraw said it is not changing the constitution that his party opposes. It is President Tandja's motivation for doing so.

If the only reason the president wants to change the constitution is to maintain himself in power indefinitely, then Hankoraw said opposition parties will say absolutely no and are determined to fight against that.

The 70-year-old president is also facing opposition from within his ruling coalition, including the Alliance for Democracy and Progress party which said changing the constitution would create a "grave threat to peace and stability."

Opposing poll undemocratic, says ruling party

The ruling party's Issoufou said it is undemocratic to oppose the referendum as those against it are against direct consultation with voters about an issue of great national importance.

Issoufou said the ruling party is waiting for the vote because that is the way it can fight. The president's political opponents can do anything they want in their campaign against the referendum. And if they succeed, he said the ruling party will not oppose the outcome.

Niger is facing a revolt by Tuareg nomads in the north who want greater autonomy and a bigger cut of profits from uranium mines in their area. The French firm Areva is developing what is expected to be africa's largest uranium mine. Niger has also signed exploratory deals with China and South Korea.