Niger was brought into the French African empire at the end of the 19th century as part of the French West African Federation. It achieved its independence, along with the other colonies of that federation, in 1960. The military played an active role in the independent Nigerien government from the beginning and definitively captured the government in 1974 in a military coup under General Seyni Kountché. Preparations for a transition to a multi-party state began in 1990. Ali Saibou, however, military and political successor to his cousin, Kountché, stayed as interim president until the elections held in 1992. The country experienced three very turbulent years of experimentation with Western-style democracy under a Constitution for the Third Republic that had been approved by 90% of the voters in December 1992.
Under the co-habitation system, implemented under the 1992 Constitution, the president was the head of state, but the prime minister (who could be from a competing political party) had powers that could conflict significantly with those of the president. In this system there was also a unicameral legislature with a Head of Assembly who could effect a compromise in the event of an impasse resulting from conflict between the president and prime minister. Until January 1996, the president was Mahamane Ousmane. He became embroiled in a political feud with the prime minister, which led to a January 1996 coup d'etat and the installation of Ibrahim Baré Mainassara as head of state and president of the Council of National Salvation (CSN).
Once in power, Mainassara attempted to gain legitimacy for his government by implementing presidential elections. He was declared to have won, despite widespread allegations of fraud. On 9 April 1999, Mainassara was assassinated by members of his personal security guard. Daouda Malam Wanké, head of the Presidential Guard unit responsible for the assassination, became the country's new leader. The junta called Mainassara's murder "an unfortunate accident" and reassured the international community that civilian rule would be restored within a year. It presided over yet another constitutional revision, which ushered in Niger's Fifth Republic.
The new Constitution was passed in July 1999 and adopted the following month. It provided for a semi-presidential government. The president is head of state and appoints the prime minister (head of government) from a list of three candidates proposed by the parliamentary majority. Presidential actions must be counter-signed by the prime minister. The president can dissolve the national assembly, assume emergency powers, and convene the Council of the Republic in the event of a constitutional crisis. Amnesties for those involved in both the 1996 and 1999 coups were part of the constitutional draft. In November 1999, elections were held for a new president and Parliament. President Mamadou Tandja, elected with 60% of the vote, took office on 5 January 2000, an occasion that marked the country's return to civilian rule.
Tandja has managed to withstand trade union protests and student demonstrations, among other political threats. Tensions between the ruling coalition and the opposition have persisted owing to allegations that Prime Minister Hama Amadou misappropriated substantial sums of money. Efforts to establish a parliamentary committee to investigate him were foiled but he was interpolated on national television. He also faced the difficult prospect of trying to hold together his party's coalition with the Convention Démocratique et Social (CDS). The coalition threatened to unravel over issues of power sharing, which Tandja's Mouvement National pour la Société de Développement (MNSD) has failed to uphold. In the run-up to elections in mid-2004, it is not impossible that the MNSD may split over who it will nominate to be its presidential candidate. The Prime Minister, Hama Amadou, has been trying to position himself as chairman of the MNSD to automatically become the party's candidate, but party activists have rejected the idea.