The National Assembly in Niger is gripped by stalemate. The National Assembly speaker Hama Amadou (from the opposition party Lumana) and the legislative majority (supporting President Mamadou Issoufou of the PNDS) have requested that the Constitutional Court step in and resolve a number of procedural issues currently blocking the election of a new legislative bureau. In the meantime, legislative business has been at a standstill for the past several weeks.
What is the issue? Hama Amadou, leader of the Lumana party and a former ally of Issoufou, was elected to the chairmanship of the National Assembly as a result of inter-party agreements in the lead-up to the second round presidential poll in March 2011. However, when Issoufou proceeded to a cabinet reshuffle in August of last year, inviting members of the opposition party MNSD to join the government, Hama claimed he had not been properly consulted and withdrew his party from the ruling coalition (see earlier posting on that development here). Hama retained his position as speaker, however. The MNSD members who accepted to join the government were meanwhile disavowed by their party.
Tensions have mounted within in the legislature over the past several months, as members of the MNSD crossed the aisle to join the PNDS and its allies, with the opposition accusing the government of buying their allegiance. In total, 12 opposition members of parliament (MPs) joined the 58 MPs from the majority to give Prime Minister Brigi Rafini a comfortable majority confidence vote (70 out of 113 seats) in November, 2013. Though more MPs have since crossed over, the majority is still short of the 2/3 legislative majority (76 seats) required by the Nigerien constitution to unseat a sitting speaker. So Hama has stayed on.
Disagreements around the renewal of the National Assembly bureau which should have been finalized in April have now brought legislative business to a halt. While the speaker is elected for the full five-year legislative term, the other members of the bureau have to be renewed every year. The dissenting MNSD MPs have aligned with the majority MPs to deny the MNSD-candidate put forward by his party sufficient votes to be elected to the 2nd vice-president slot. The MNSD dissidents claimed they were not consulted. Similarly, the Lumana-candidate for the 3rd vice-presidency failed to get elected.
Hama Amadou has set up a working group composed of five MPs from the majority, five from the opposition, and five from the “dissidents,” to see if a consensual solution could be found to the nomination of candidates for the two positions on the bureau still left vacant. However, the working group appears to have hit an impasse. Meanwhile, the majority MPs have asked the Constitutional Court to remove Hama from the speaker position for failing to respect the legislative rules of procedure and the constitution.
The situation has come to a head this week, with opposition MPs requesting that the Constitutional Court impeach President Issoufou for failing to fulfill his mandate. Among other complaints, the MPs accuse Issoufou of having orchestrated the legislative stalemate by seeking to influence the choice of opposition MPs to be represented in the National Assembly bureau.
Clearly, the ‘cohabitation’ within the National Assembly between an opposition speaker and the majority MPs is not working well. Will Issoufou decide to dissolve the legislature, as a way out of the impasse? He may fear a similar outcome to what former President Mahamane Ousmane experienced in 1995, where fresh legislative elections failed to produce the desired legislative majority and forced a period of cohabitation on him. That highly conflictual cohabitation was a direct contribution to the January 1996 military coup.