Niger goes to polls

2009-10-20 10:38

Niamey - Voting in parliamentary elections in Niger on Tuesday got underway despite an opposition boycott and calls from regional and international bodies for a postponement.

The African Union, regional grouping Ecowas and the European Union have all urged a delay in order to revive political dialogue between President Mamadou Tandja and the opposition.

Niger's opposition is boycotting the vote in protest at the extension of Tandja's mandate, which would have run out in December, through an earlier referendum. It has called the referendum a "coup d'etat".

Tandja cast his vote early on Tuesday at Niamey city hall flanked by heavy security.

Fair and transparent

"I wish that this day will be good for Niger, that the voting will pass off smoothly and that the elected deputies will be true patriots," he said, adding that he hoped the voting would be "fair and transparent".

The polls, to fill 113 parliamentary seats, come after Tandja dissolved parliament in June, two months before he held the referendum to prolong his mandate.

In power for 10 years, Tandja on August 4 pressed ahead with a referendum to change the constitution, prolonging his mandate by three years and then opening the way to further elections in which he can stand.

The referendum was widely opposed within Niger and was universally condemned by the international community.

Promote dialogue

Ecowas - the Economic Community of West African States - banned Niamey from convening meetings of the 15-nation body and from putting up candidates for posts within international organisations.

Tandja has argued that he needs more time to complete work undertaken during his two five-year terms in office, where he has sought peace with Tuareg rebels in the desert north of the country and has signed agreements, mainly with France, for the further exploitation of Niger's only resource, uranium.

Ecowas on Saturday urged the president indefinitely to postpone the vote to promote dialogue with his opponents. Then on Sunday, an Ecowas delegation led by Liberia's President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf met Tandja in Niamey for a last-ditch attempt to have him call off the election.