Niger Votes on New Constitution to Limit President’s Power

Citizens of Niger voted on a new constitution that, if passed, will limit presidential powers, undoing changes made by former President Mamadou Tandja.

The charter will re-establish a limit of two five-year presidential terms, which was scrapped by Tandja in August 2009, and give the prime minister the power to appoint government members. Polls started opening at 7:30 a.m. local time and closed as scheduled at about 7 p.m.

“Approving a new constitution is one of the key steps to untangling the changes brought in by Tandja,” Sabine Machenheimer, an analyst with London-based IHS Jane’s, said in an e-mailed note to clients on Oct. 29.

If voters approve the constitution, elections in January will allow a return to civilian rule in the world’s sixth-largest uranium producer. A military junta has governed since toppling Tandja in February following his changes to the constitution, which were aimed at extending his decade in power.

“We are at a special day,” Djibo Salou, the head of the junta, said in the capital, Niamey, after voting along with other members of the military leadership. “I urge all Nigeriens to vote massively for the new constitution.”

Security personnel patrolled the streets in Niamey.

The new document would ban soldiers from running for office. Jan. 31 has been set as the date for presidential elections and April 6 as the date for the swearing in of the new president.

“We are finalizing the military transition with the referendum,” Mahamadou Dandah, the country’s prime minister, said in an interview. “Citizens are mobilized.”

‘Regain Democracy’

The proposed constitution would also force the government to publish figures for the country’s oil and mining revenue. Areva SA, the world’s largest supplier of nuclear equipment and services, has mines in Niger.

Muslim leaders have called for a boycott of the constitution because it establishes a secular state in a country where about 99 percent of the population follows Islam.

The country has a population of 15.3 million people and has a $5.4 billion economy, according to World Bank statistics for 2009. That equates to gross domestic income per capita of $340 compared with an average of $1,096 for the whole of sub-Saharan Africa.

While there are no opinion polls on whether the constitution will be adopted, none of Niger’s 56 political parties has opposed the new referendum. Results will be announced by Nov. 1 or Nov. 2.

“It is an important moment for our country,” said Kailou Yusuf, a newspaper vendor in Niamey, in an interview. “I’m going to vote because this time our country will regain democracy.”

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