Penultimate Friday, the country’s constitutional court ended months of argument over the legality or not of a referendum, now slated for August 4, which is meant to give him three years bonus before presidential elections in 2012. Seven justices of the court ruled that the planned referendum is illegal.
In common parlance, the project is tagged Tazarce, certainly not too different in content from the botched third term project of Nigeria’s former President Olusegun Obasanjo. Other Hausa speakers in Niger prefer to call it Ta-iyda or better still, Ta-cika, at least, for a difference. However, it is referred to, the content remains unchanged and the project is being worked out in accordance with the familiar trend of other African power mongers.
But apart from the court’s judgement, a combined dose of organised resentment at home and pressure from the international community, particularly the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) stares Tandja in the face. Therefore, the way out seems to be the biggest dilemma of the embattled president.
When parliament was on the verge of killing his request for the referendum, President Tandja quickly dissolved it on May 26, 2009. He now operates without a parliament. But he is not ignorant of the constitutional provision that compels him to call for parliamentary elections within three months, precisely before August 26. But he must avoid dealing with the same parliament that initially rejected his proposal, if he wants to make headway by all means.
Therefore the referendum is carefully fixed for August 4 so that a new constitution would have come into effect before the law catches up with him. This way, the old constitution would have been voided, Niger’s Minister of Communications and government spokesman Mohamed Ben Omar explains to Sunday Trust in an exclusive interview in Niamey.
“Tandja has up to 26th August 2009 to put together a new parliament following the dissolution of the last one in May. But we are going for a referendum on August 4… We are hoping that before the expiration of this time, the new constitution would have been signed and is already in effect. With this, the old constitution would have been history,” the minister said.
According him, referendum is a right of the president derived from Section 49 of the constitution of the Republic of Niger. He said the parliament, which also has the right to amend the constitution, is infested with political hiccups.
“For instance, if the president wants to have the constitution amended, he has to secure the approval of two-third majority of parliament. If two out of every three PMs agree, then that is the time that they will vote on the amendment. When this happens, they will vote again and four out of every PMs have to vote in favour of the amendment. It is after this has been done that a referendum will be conducted.
“But everyone knows that after the government of Hama Amadou (the sacked Prime Minister), the situation has not been the same in parliament. That is one of the reasons that compelled President Tandja to ask the entire people of Niger directly, through referendum, whether they agree to the amendments that he wants to do to the constitution or not,” Ben Omar said.
This thinking obviously appears to have informed the dissolution of parliament in May. After a heated debate on the issue, parliamentarians approached the constitutional court for its opinion, which it voluntarily offered, saying the proposed referendum was illegal. But government said it was a mere opinion which had no effect in law.
At the prompting of the seeming disregard for the parliament and the opinion of the court, the opposition returned to the court on Monday June 8 to obtain a judicial ruling which it got penultimate Friday (June 12, 2009).
Deputy President of the Nigerien Party for Democracy and Socialism (PNDS Taraiya) and member of the dissolved parliament, Mr. Bazoum Mohamed, told Sunday Trust in Niamey before the court’s ruling that Tandja would be treated as having staged a coup d’état if he violates the court order which they were expecting to favour them. PNDS is the main opposition party and part of the Front for the Defence of Democracy (FDD), a coalition of 231 political parties and non-governmental organisations hostile to Tandja’s plan for a constitutional referendum.
Earlier in a separate interview, Secretary General of the PNDS, Mr. Pierre Foumakoye Gado told Sunday Trust had remarked thus: