Niger - Politics, government, and taxation



France took little interest in developing Niger during its colonial rule from the start of the 20th century until 1959, when uranium deposits were discovered. Independence was gained a year later and Hamani Diori became the first president. Widespread political corruption and drought in 1968 and 1969 brought civil disorder, at which point the army intervened. Lieutenant Colonel Seyni Kountche then ruled through the Conseil Militaire Supreme (CMS). Shortly before his death in 1987, he tried to create a legitimate face for the CMS by introducing a National Charter. His successor, Aly Saibou, proposed a single-party constitution, that was passed in a 1989 referendum. The only legal party was then the National Movement for Developing Society (MNSD).

Internal social and political pressure built up in 1990-91 with demands for a multi-party state. Aid donors also began exerting force to move Niger towards democracy. Saibou eventually heeded the calls, and in 1991 a national conference was called, leading to a multi-party constitution. Legislative elections were held in 1993, and the MNSD gained 29 of the 83 seats, while the opposition Alliance de Forces de Changement (AFC) won 50 seats and formed the new government. Mahamane Ousmane, the AFC's candidate, was elected president the following month. However, the government soon ran into problems. Unrest, following the 1994 devaluation of the CFA franc led to the prime minister's resignation, fresh elections in 1995, and a period of limited cooperation between the MNSD leader, the prime minister and the president. Although achieving little in this period, the government did manage to sign a peace agreement with the Tuareg (a nomadic trading people, operating across Niger, Nigeria, Burkina Faso, Senegal, and Mali, with whom there had been armed conflict) to prevent further insurgencies.

In 1996 the army chief of staff, Colonel Ibrahim Mainassara, seized power. A new multi-party constitution was introduced, followed by an election, which Mainassara won amid malpractice protests. The opposition boycotted the legislative election and formed the Front pour la Restauration et la Defense de Democratie (FRDD) to denounce Mainassara's manipulation of the electoral process and to demand new elections. In 1997 and 1998 there were union and student demonstrations, which resulted in violent clashes with the government. Unrest in the armed forces and Tuareg insurgency created further problems for the new government.

It was hoped that the participation of FRDD in the 1999 local elections would usher in a new era of reconciliation. However, administrative muddle and indecisive results marred the election. President Mainassara was shot and killed 2 months later by members of the presidential guard. A new military council was formed by the chief of the presidential guard, Major Daouda Wanke, who became president. This military coup cost Niger much international goodwill, and many donors froze payments. Wanke was forced to announce elections and a new constitution in 1999 and stepped down with constitutional immunity from the law.

Presidential and legislative elections were held in late 1999. The new president, Mamadou Tandja, a retired colonel, won 60 percent of the vote in the second round of elections, and his MNSD, together with the Convention Democratique et Sociale (CDS), holds a majority of seats in parliament. Elections were deemed to be satisfactorily free and fair, leading to the resumption of donor aid, although political stability is still very fragile. General army discontent over wages and conditions could well lead to a mutiny or coup. In addition, social unrest, spurred by union protests over the non-payment of salaries, has continued. The European Union, whose aid is frozen, is backing demands for an inquiry into assassinations which implicate Major Wanke.

A referendum on the present constitution (the fifth in recent years) received 90 percent of the vote on a 30 percent turnout in 1999. The constitution seeks to share power between the president and the prime minister, and the president is elected for a period of 5 years. The parliament is also elected for 5 years. The president may dissolve the assembly once in a year and picks the prime minister from a choice of 3 selected by a parliamentary majority. The constitution allows for a 7-member constitutional court, which interprets the constitution and validates electoral results; an electoral commission to supervise and organize elections; an economic, social and cultural council (which is in charge of examining relevant bills) and a media watchdog, the Communication Council. In May 2000 a high council of national defence was created to run the armed forces.

The discontent of the Tuareg and other communities has died down, following the deal that was brokered in 1995. The rebellion cost hundreds of lives, affected infrastructure, and stopped promising tourism in the desert town of Agadez. By mid-1999, most Tuaregs had turned in their weapons, in return for jobs in the armed forces or other sectors. Following these developments tourism has picked up in Tuareg areas. However, the government now faces problems from the Toubou community in the east.

Most of the 11 privately-owned papers suffered harassment, closures, and arrests under the Mainassara regime. The only private FM radio station also reported harassment. The state controls most radio and television broadcasts. But a more moderate press law was enacted in 1998.

Niger raises less than 10 percent of the GNP in tax revenue and received a further 2 percent in surpluses from state-owned enterprises, mainly monopolies . About 25 percent of government spending goes on social services (which includes health and education), about 15 percent on military equipment and the armed forces, with the remainder absorbed by general public sector administration.

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