Niger aims for civilian rule with constitution vote

* Heavy security for vote after alleged coup attempt

* Junta aiming for high turnout after Muslim boycott call

By Abdoulaye Massalaatchi

NIAMEY, Oct 31 (BestGrowthStock) – Voters in Niger turned out under
tight security on Sunday for a referendum on a new constitution
intended to pave the way for civilian rule.

National borders were closed for the duration of the vote,
weeks after Niger’s junta arrested four senior officers it
accused of trying to stage a new coup d’etat.

“Today is an exceptional day,” junta leader Djibo Salou said
after voting in a heavily-guarded polling booth in the capital
Niamey.

“I have just performed my duty in the hope … of a new
beginning for a democratic system that can bring stability and
progress,” said Salou, whose promises to restore civilian rule
in the uranium-producing West African state have won him
plaudits from Western donors.

Sunday’s vote is the first in a series of elections due to
culminate in the swearing-in of a new civilian leader by April
next year, replacing the leaders of February’s coup against
former president Mamadou Tandja.

The new constitution seeks to undo presidential powers that
Tandja had awarded to himself before being deposed, and to
improve governance in the mining sector of a country which is
nuclear-power France’s top uranium-supplier.

The junta is hoping for voter turnout of at least 70 percent
after Islamic groups this week urged a boycott of the referendum
because the new constitution formalises a separation of powers
between the state and Islam in the 98-percent Muslim country.

If adopted, the constitution guarantees immunity for the
leaders of February’s coup and commits them to handing over
power on April 6 next year, by which time a newly-elected
civilian president is due to have been inaugurated.
(Writing by Mark John; Editing by Janet Lawrence)

Niger aims for civilian rule with constitution vote