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Niger Said to Be Ready to Return to Civilian Rule

  • Peter Clottey

The head of the military junta, General Salou Djibo, casts his ballot in Niamey as Niger voted today in a constitutional referendum, 31 Oct 2010

The vice president of Niger’s biggest political party said a majority of the people are ready to vote in the scheduled January 31 presidential and parliamentary elections after their overwhelming approval of a new constitution that paves the way for a return to civilian rule.

Bazoum Mohammed, vice president of the Nigerien Party for Democracy and Socialism (PNDS-Tarayya), says most people want an end to military rule.

“The Nigeriens are very happy to have voted this past Sunday because they know that it is the only way to end military rule," he said."Niger is in a situation that is very difficult and all Nigeriens are aware that the only way in front of us is to go to a democratic rule.“

Nigeriens voted in a referendum Sunday to approve of a new constitution with a nearly 53 percent voter turnout, which the electoral commission noted as the highest for the West African country.

The election commission said Tuesday that complete preliminary results show more than 90 percent of voters backed the proposed constitution.

The new constitution reverses changes pushed through by former President Mamadou Tandja, who enacted laws in 2009 to increase his authority and extend his time in office.

Mohammed expressed confidence in the electoral body’s ability to organize a credible vote next year.

“People trust them [electoral commission] and we have confidence in what they have done. There haven’t been many problems and I think things will go right,” he said.

Mohammed said official campaigning for both the presidential and parliamentary elections next year will begin “the first week of next year.”

Mr. Tandja was ousted in a military coup in February. The military has promised to return Niger to civilian rule. The new constitution also guarantees immunity for the leaders of February's coup and commits them to handing over power next year.

The referendum is the first in a series of votes in Niger that will end with a new civilian leader taking power in April.

The February coup was the country's fourth since independence from France in 1960. Last month the military government said it put down another coup attempt and arrested four senior officers.

Niger, an African nation of about 15 million, is one of the world's poorest countries despite rich deposits of uranium. The country has endured chronic unrest in recent years, including a rebellion by ethnic Tuaregs and a series of killings and kidnappings by the militant group al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb.