New Niger constitution gets thumbs-up
Niger's people gave a draft new constitution an overwhelming 90 percent yes vote in Sunday's referendum, according to complete provisional results published by the electoral commission.
"The 'yes' gathered 3,124,152 votes, that is 90.18 percent," against 9.82 percent for the 'no', the president of the Independent National Electoral Commission (CENI), Gousmane Abdourahamane, said in Niamey.
The vote opens the way to an end to military rule in the poor west African country, with a presidential election and parliamentary polls scheduled for January 31 next year. A handover of power is planned for April.
The turnout reached 52.65 percent of about 6.7 million registered voters, he added, during a ceremony at the Congress Palace attended by government members and diplomats.
Abdourahamane hailed a "major mobilisation of the electorate."
The "provisional global results" will be passed on "as of Wednesday to the Constitutional Council" for validation and proclamation as the definitive results, Abdourahamane told AFP.
The junta in power since a February coup against President Mamadou Tandja called on the population to vote massively yes in favour of the new basic law, which has won the approval of all Niger's political parties.
The new constitution, which will be the seventh since the former French colony gained its independence in 1960, is due to replace one which was suspended by the junta, or Supreme Council for the Restoration of Democracy, when it took power.
Even before the provisional results, France described the referendum as a key step toward the restoration of democracy in the west African country.
Passed in August 2009, Niger's previous constitution created a serious crisis, because it enabled Tandja to stay in power after his second five-year mandate ran out at the end of last year.
The political opposition and the powerful trade unions had strongly opposed that move and Tandja's final year in power was marked by widespread protests and unrest in the streets.
Some party leaders denounced discrimination on educational or age grounds under the new constitution, fearing that they would be excluded from elections. The junta finally decided that eligibility should not be linked to any level of academic achievement and that there would be no upper age limit for candidates.
The presidential mandate has been fixed to "five years renewable once only", which is not subject to revision.
The new constitution also provides for an "amnesty for the authors and the co-authors of the coup d'etat of February 18," in order to protect the junta and its military backers from being hunted down once they quit power. Like the clause on mandates, this clause is not open to revision.
Before the vote, political analyst Abdou Issa said that "the junta has been good at manoeuvring" in winning a compromise between allies of Tandja, who "back a strong presidential regime, and their former opponents."
Niger is a largely arid, sub-Saharan nation, whose main resource is uranium, mined in the north by the French company Areva.