President of Niger dissolves parliament

The president of Niger issued a decree on Tuesday dissolving the West African country’s parliament after he lost a court battle to change the constitution so he could run for a third term in office.

President Mamadou Tandja’s decree was read on state-owned radio, and it gave no reason for his decision for the dissolution of the assembly.

However, it came hours after Niger’s constitutional court rejected Tandja’s call to change the constitution so he can run for a third term as the country’s leader. Insiders say Tandja was punishing parliament for having failed to support him in his bid to do that.

Tandja won his first term in 1999 after his military predecessor was assassinated.

This month, he suggested holding a referendum on ending the two-term limit on the presidency. The issue was taken up by the parliament, which referred it to the constitutional court. The court announced late Monday that Tandja’s referendum bid would be “illegal” and that “under no circumstances can he change the constitution without violating his oath.”

Democracy is very much a work in progress in Africa, and only a handful of countries have had two or more successful transfers of power from one democratically elected leader to another.

Calling for a third term and trying to change the constitution to make that possible are a common strategy among entrenched African leaders trying to cling on to power.

Copyright 2009 The Associated Press.