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Niger - Politics

Niger is a secular democracy, but Niger's political culture, even in the age of democratic politics, is still short of inner restraints. the country remains divided politically among the supporters and clients of the leading political personalities. Nigerien civil society does not currently constitute a strong counterweight to government abuse of power. Many are fronts for politicians and those seeking to use their organizations as a base for launching political careers in the future.

Niger went through a period of political turbulence between 2009 and 2011 that started with the end of the Tuareg rebellion, Mamadou Tandja’s efforts to seek a third term as president and his removal through a military coup. The military regime organized a referendum to approve a new constitution in 2010 and then kept its promise to restore civilian rule by organizing national presidential, legislative and regional elections in 2010 and 2011.

Nigeriens regard the conspicuous consumption by Niger’s political elite and the favoritism shown to their friends, families, and supporters in allocating state resources as sure signs of corruption. There appear to be few differences between government coalitions and opposition parties in terms of the seriousness with which they approach political and economic reforms. A disconnect between the government and the people seems to be growing as promises of reform, improving government services, and providing more employment opportunities, have not materialized.

A disconnect between the government and the people seems to be growing and undermining the legitimacy of the government as promises to reform the system, improve government services, and provide more employment opportunities have not yet materialized This trend undermines trust in the government and its legitimacy.

Characterized since colonialism by a highly-centralized state that often undercut traditional rulers, Niger has embraced a system of political decentralization based on democratically elected local governments. While on paper, these "commune" governments have taken over some of the functions of the chiefs and the central government administrators, the reality is more complex. While chiefs are agents of the state, government control over the chiefs varies in practice, as do chiefs' conceptions of their role. Chiefs often dominate the locally elected commune governments, and are in a position to dictate their success or failure.

Chiefs usually enjoy more popular support than local or national politicians. Their presence can make local democracy awkward in practice. Their role vis-a-vis modern judicial and governmental institutions invites criticism from the secular civil society. Yet, in the world's least developed country, where better than eighty percent of the people live in rural areas, traditional chiefs remain a major source of authority for most Nigeriens.

While some chiefs complicate efforts to promote democracy and the rule of law, the institution serves as a break on radical Islam, a viable mechanism for cross-border and local conflict resolution, and an essential -- if often un-tapped -- partner and guide for development interventions.

In an important departure from colonial policy, independent Niger has largely allowed local communities and noblemen to select chiefs for themselves via a quasi-democratic mechanism. Consequently, the quality of individual chiefs is often high, and the institution's legitimacy has re-bounded since the colonial period.

In July 2004, Niger held nationwide municipal elections as part of its decentralization process. Some 3,700 people were elected to new local governmental positions in 265 newly established communes. Although the ruling MNSD party won more positions than any other political party, opposition parties made significant gains.

In November and December 2004, Niger held presidential and legislative elections. Mamadou Tandja was elected to his second 5-year presidential term with 65% of the vote in an election that international observers called generally free and fair. This was the first presidential election with a democratically elected incumbent and was a test of Niger's young democracy. In the 2004 legislative elections, the ruling MNSD, the CDS, the Rally for Social Democracy (RSD), the Rally for Democracy and Progress (RDP), the Nigerien Alliance for Democracy and Progress (ANDP), and the Social Party for Nigerien Democracy (PSDN) coalition, all of which backed Tandja, won 88 of the 113 seats in the National Assembly.

In February 2007, a previously unknown rebel group, the Movement of Nigeriens for Justice (MNJ), emerged as a formidable threat to peace in the north of Niger. The predominantly Tuareg group issued a number of demands, mainly related to development in the north. It attacked military and other facilities and laid landmines in the north. The resulting insecurity devastated Niger's tourist industry and deterred investment in mining and oil. The government labeled the MNJ members criminals and traffickers, and refused to negotiate with the group until it disarmed.

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Page last modified: 06-09-2021 11:50:53 ZULU