Preliminary results from legislative elections in Niger indicate a big win for the ruling party in a vote boycotted by the opposition. West African leaders suspended the country from its regional economic bloc, ECOWAS, for going ahead with the vote amidst a political crisis sparked by a referendum extending the president's rule.
Preliminary results show President Mamadou Tandja's party winning more than half of the 113 seats in a new parliament.
Opposition parties boycotted Tuesday's vote to replace lawmakers dismissed by President Tandja after they said it was illegal to change the constitution to extend his time in office.
The Economic Community of West African states asked President Tandja to indefinitely suspend this legislative election in favor of political dialogue. When he did not, the regional alliance suspended Niger from the regional bloc and called on the African Union and United Nations to follow suit.
Foreign Minister Aichatou Mindaoudou says ECOWAS should reconsider a decision that she says shows West African leaders do not understand Niger's political situation.
President Tandja says he needs to stay in power to finish several large projects including a Chinese oil refinery and a new French uranium mine. He dismissed the country's constitutional court and ruled by decree until the August referendum gave him another three years in power.
With this legislative win, the 71-year-old retired colonel has a new parliament, a new constitutional court and the freedom to run again when his extended term ends in 2012.
ECOWAS says the vote was meant to further entrench Niger's "constitutional illegality." The Obama administration says President Tandja should resolve the political crisis through dialogue rather than what it calls "self-serving actions that continue to erode Niger's ten-year commitment to democracy and good governance."
President Tandja's ruling party says it is not for the international community to decide the future of the country. It says there was widespread popular support to extend the president's term and the opposition boycott of this vote will have no affect on the credibility of the new parliament just as its protest of the referendum had no affect on changing the constitution.
Opposition leaders say the vote was illegal because it was organized by a government founded on an unconstitutional referendum.
Final results are expected in the next several days.