[JURIST] Niger held a referendum Tuesday on a proposed constitution that would allow President Mamadou Tandja [BBC profile] to remain in office. Tandja had previously promised to step down when his second five-year term expires in December, but if the new constitution is approved, he will be allowed to remain in office for three more years [AFP report] and could then run for re-election as many times as he wants. The new constitution, which was drafted by a five-member panel appointed by Tandja, would also give the president the power to appoint one-third of the members [CBC report] of a new 60-member senate. Opposition leaders have been extremely critical of the proposed constitution and called for a boycott [AP report] of the referendum.
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.