[JURIST] Voters in Niger overwhelmingly approved a referendum Friday establishing a new constitution that would allow President Mamadou Tandja [BBC profile] to remain in office. Among the new constitution's changes is the abolition of a presidential two-term limit, allowing Tandja to remain in office for three more years [AFP report] and to run in any subsequent elections. Tandja argued that continuation of his presidency is necessary to the completion of economic development projects in the Saharan country, including a uranium mine and a dam on the Niger River. The new constitution will also allow the president to appoint one third of the members [CBC report] of a newly-created Senate, and to establish a media-monitoring position that would have the authority to jail reporters thought to present a threat to the country. The vote was held [JURIST report] on Tuesday, with the Elections Commission claiming that the referendum passed with 92 percent of the vote [BBC report] and that voter turnout was more than 68 percent. The opposition group Coalition of Forces for Democracy and Republic (CFDR), which had encouraged a popular boycott [AP report] of the referendum on constitutional grounds, disputes the figures [press release, in French], saying that overall turnout was less than 5 percent.
In June, opposition leader Bazoum Mohamed of the Nigerien Party for Democracy and Socialism (PNDS) [party website] accused Tandja of committing a coup d'etat [JURIST report] by annulling the West African country's Constitutional Court. The Constitutional Court ruled [Pana report] in May that plans to hold a referendum on allowing a third term violated the 1999 Constitution [text, in French]. Tandja responded to the ruling by dissolving parliament and assuming emergency powers.