Category Archives: Niger

Niger – Battle for the budget

Who would have thought a finance law could ignite such fervor, bringing thousands to the streets of Niamey and other cities of Niger in demonstrations for and against the national budget?

Since October 2017, a coalition of civil society groups, opposition parties and labor unions have mobilized against Niger’s 2018 budget law which they label as “antisocial.” The 2018 budget extends taxation into the informal sector, including the transportation sector, and raises taxes on the trade and service sectors, among other measures. It also provides for reduced taxation of the mobile sector, notably by eliminating the tax on incoming international calls (TATTIE), which was a significant source of revenue (about 20 billion FCFA). The government of Niger was reportedly under pressure by the international mobile phone companies and the World Bank to eliminate the TATTIE which according to Minister of Finance Hassoumi Massaoudou is not applied in any other country member of the West African Economic and Monetary Union.

The finance law was adopted in November 2017 without changes proposed by the opposition. Since then, there have been regular demonstrations against the 2018 budget, which have continued into 2018. Protesters argue the law affects the poor disproportionately, while favoring foreign firms.

In early March, pro-government parties organized a massive counter demonstration in support of the budget and President Mahamadou Issoufou. The government argues the tax burden remains at its 2015-level and that the budget has no negative impact on the rural sector where 80% of Nigeriens live. Instead, according to the Minister of Finance, the 2018 budget seeks to extend taxation to the large informal sector in the urban areas that amounts for 59% of GDP.

This budget battle is a product of and illustrates the significant external and internal pressures the government of Niger is facing.

Insecurity is an existential threat, with terrorists infiltrating and attacking the country from neighboring Mali, Libya and Nigeria. Just this past week, three armed police officers (gendarmes) were killed in Goubé, at 40 km from the capital Niamey, by assailants crossing over the border from Mali.

As a result of the regional insecurity, 15% of the national budget now goes to the security sector, while spending on public services such as education and access to clean water has had to be reduced proportionally. Falling prices on uranium and oil, Niger’s primary exports, have contributed to the country’s significant dependence on foreign aid which in turn limits the government’s policy options.

At the same time, the government of President Issoufou faces a very determined opposition led by the largest opposition party, MODEN/FA Lumana. Lumana’s leader, former Prime Minister and former Speaker of the National Assembly Hama Amadou, is in self-imposed exile in France after being sentenced in absentia to a year in prison for child smuggling – a charge Hama Amadou and his supporters argue is politically motivated. The opposition is boycotting the newly reformed independent election commission where it has refused to take up the seats reserved for it. The opposition also stays away from meetings of the National Council for Political Dialogue (Conseil National pour le Dialogue Politique – CNDP), a forum under the auspices of the prime minister created to facilitate inter-party dialogue outside of parliament. Instead, as we’ve seen, the opposition is taking to the streets, forming an alliance with some of the largest civil society organizations of Niger.

In a country with a rich history of military coups – the latest as recent as 2010 – and facing significant security threats, there is reason to worry about the apparent inability of government and opposition to engage in dialogue. In early March, after the pro-government counter demonstration, the Islamic Associations of Niger felt compelled to issue a statement condemning the marches for or against the 2018 finance law and calling on Nigerien elites to come together “to protect the sovereignty of the nation, social cohesion and to ensure sustainable development.” They also declared their availability to serve as mediators. The statement may have contributed to the civil society-opposition coalition calling off its plans for the organization of a “ghost town operation” (general strike) on March 15. However, the protesters against the finance law have maintained their call for a large manifestation on March 25.

The situation in Niger merits greater attention than the country generally gets. An apparently banal budget battle could well degenerate. The use of the streets to demonstrate political muscle illustrates how polarized the situation is, and the inability of existing institutional fora to appropriately channel political dialogue.

Africa – Presidential term limits and the third term tragedy

Africa is currently in the middle of a third term crisis. As presidents come up against the presidential term-limits included in many multi-party constitutions, a significant number are refusing to leave power gracefully. Instead, a number of leaders have sought to secure a third term. So far, this trend has taken in countries as otherwise diverse as Burkina Faso, Burundi, Namibia, Rwanda, Uganda, and now, it seems, the Democratic Republic of Congo.

In most cases, they have tried to do so through official channels, in other words by changing the law or appealing to the judiciary, rather than simply suspending the constitution and ruling by fiat. One reason for this is that there is strong domestic and international support for presidential term limits. Afrobarometer data suggests that typically over two-thirds of Africans support term limits, although there is considerable variation, with a high of 90% in Benin and a low of 44% in Algeria. As a result, leaders feel compelled to tread carefully, and to legitimise their strategies by pursuing them through formal channels.

Yet despite this, attempts to secure a third term have often triggered political unrest and in some cases widespread civil conflict. In both Burkina Faso and Burundi, efforts by unpopular presidents to stay in power come what may triggered mass protests and ultimately (very different forms of) military intervention. At the time of going to press, a further crisis appears to be brewing in the Democratic Republic of Congo, where the President, Joseph Kabila, looks set to pursue an unconstitutional third term in office. On Thursday 5 May, the former Governor of Katanga, Moise Katumbi, announced that he would be contesting the presidency as the candidate of the three main opposition parties. Just hours later he tweeted that the president – his former ally – had sent the police force to surround his house and that he had appealed to the United Nations mission in the country to protect him. Unconfirmed local reports later suggested that it was only the intervention of UN soldiers that prevented Katumbi’s detention.

If so, the DRC has had a lucky escape. Opposition supporters have already been involved in violent clashes with the security forces in protest against the prospect of a prolonged Kabila presidency. The arrest of Katumbi would raise the political temperature yet further, increasing the prospects for conflict in the coming months. As allegations and rumours circulate unhindered, the threat of a broader political rupture becomes ever more likely.

The growing number of third term tragedies on the continent raises three important questions. First, when do presidents seek a third term and when do they not? Second, when are they successful? Third, when are a president’s attempts to serve a third term most likely to result in political conflict?

Should I stay or should I go

Despite the recent headlines it is important to remember that considerably more presidents have respected term limits than have broken them. For every Uganda there is a Zambia, for every Burundi there is a South Africa, for every Rwanda there is a Kenya. There are a number of factors that appear to encourage presidents to seek third terms. First, the quality of democracy matters. Presidents in less democratic states who face weaker institutional checks and balances are more likely to try and break – or at least change – the rules. Good recent examples include Congo-Brazzaville and Djibouti.

Second, it is more feasible for presidents who govern countries that are more politically and economically independent from western influence to ignore international protests. As a result, leaders who enjoy greater international leverage because their countries feature valuable natural resources or are of considerable geo-strategic importance, try to secure a third term much more frequently than those that are much more dependent on Western trade. This is one of the reasons that President Yoweri Museveni of Uganda, a country that recently found large oil reserves and is a key ally of United States in the war-on-terror, is able to stay in power indefinitely.

Third, presidents who enjoy greater political control are more likely to judge that it is possible to secure a third term, and hence more likely to risk pursuing one. Political control comes through two main routes: the ruling party and the security forces. Presidents are far more likely to try and secure third terms in dominant-party states in which the ruling party secures over 60% of seats in the legislature, such as Namibia and Rwanda, and when they have tight control over the army and police, as in Djibouti and Uganda. Under these conditions, it is often possible to both change the constitution through the legislature and silence any opposition to this strategy.

You can’t always get what you want

Of course, presidents do not always get it right and a number of third term bids have been unsuccessful. In countries such as Nigeria and Zambia, presidents failed in part because they could not take their own parties with them. As a result, they struggled to pass the necessary legislation, and, facing strong opposition from civil society groups and other parties, abandoned their plans. Rather than undermining democracy, this process can actually give it a short in the arm, and deter future presidents from pursuing similar strategies.

However, unsuccessful attempts to stay in power can also have far more problematic consequences. In Burkina Faso and Burundi, leaders overestimated their political control and underestimated the strength of opposition. As a result, they struggled to push through their third term ambitions. In Burundi, for example, President Nkurunziza lost a critical vote in the legislature to change the law, which forced him to put pressure on the judiciary to interpret the constitution in a way that would allow him to stand again. Although the Supreme Court ultimately ruled in his favour, it was immediately apparent that it only did so as a result of high levels of intimidation, further undermining the president’s credibility. As a result, the verdict did little to dampen opposition protests against his actions.

Limited political control undermined the position of President Nkurudiza in a second way. In the midst of the public protests in May 2015, a group of army officers launched a coup attempt. Although it appears to have been a poorly coordinated effort and was eventually put down, the mutiny demonstrated the lack of unity within the armed forces, and the potential for the president’s limited control over the security forces to contribute to political instability.

The bigger they are the harder they fall

To date, presidential term limits have not tended to be the source of major political conflict when presidents have either a) been willing to give up on their ambitions in the face of widespread opposition (Nigeria, Zambia) or b) have enjoyed the political control needed to be able to force through their will with relatively little resistance (Uganda, Rwanda). The “problem category”, for want of a better term, is those cases in which conditions are not favourable to a third term bid but leaders try and force one through regardless.

In turn, this is most likely to happen in states in which presidents have most to gain from staying in office, and most to lose by giving up power. Good proxies for the benefits of office are the level of corruption and the presence of valuable natural resources, the combination of which can make a leader extremely wealthy. A decent proxy for the costs of leaving power is whether a country has a history of political violence, which tends to decrease the level of trust between rival leaders, and increase the potential that the head of state will be prosecuted for human rights violations when they step down.

This is not great news for the DRC, which is a highly corrupt resource rich state with a history of political conflict. Unless President Kabila bucks the continental pattern, he is unlikely to step down voluntarily. And if he proves to be willing to risk everything to stay in power, sending the police to surround Katumbi’s house is likely to be only the tip of the iceberg.


Niger – Newly elected President Mahamadou Issoufou faces the challenge of healing political divisions

Within hours of being confirmed the winner of the March 20 presidential run-off, incumbent President Mahamadou Issofou invited the opposition to join a government of national unity. According to preliminary results released by the election commission (CENI), Issoufou won reelection with 92.5 percent of the vote against former chairman of the National Assembly Hama Amadou who garnered 7.5 percent. Voter turn-out was 59.8 percent according to the CENI – a figure challenged by the opposition that claims only 11 percent of voters turned out on election day.

Issoufou’s overwhelming reelection was not exactly a surprise, after the opposition coalition COPA 2016 (Coalition for Alternation) backing challenger Hama Amadou called on its supporters to boycott the run-off. Issoufou had won 48.4 percent of the vote and Hama 17.8 percent in the February 21 first-round election [se previous blogpost analyzing election results here]. COPA 2016 had alleged an unlevel playing field and fraud in that election. However, once a run-off was announced, the 23 parties making up COPA 2016 stated they would participate and back their candidate, Hama Amadou.

The days following the declaration of results from the first round were followed by intense maneuverings from both camps, trying to secure the support of unsuccessful candidates who didn’t make it to the run-off. Issoufou succeeded in getting the endorsement of Ibrahim Yacouba, his former deputy chief of staff who had broken ranks with the president’s PNDS party last year, as well as the support of a number of other first round candidates – totaling about a dozen percent of votes. In contrast, COPA 2016 was unsuccessful in rallying additional pledges behind its candidate, Hama Amadou.

Hama Amadou did not withdraw from the race, but COPA 2016 called for voters to stay home and declared that the opposition would not recognize the results, complaining about unfair treatment of its candidate. Hama spent election day in a hospital in Paris, whereto he was taken days before the poll for treatment for an unspecified chronic illness. Hama left for hospital from his prison cell in Filingué where he has been awaiting trial in a case of alleged baby trafficking since November 2015; he and a number of other high-ranking Nigeriens stand accused of falsely claiming parenthood of children born to Nigerian women. Hama maintains the case is politically motivated and calls himself a political prisoner.

This election has been tense and the campaigns virulent. President Issoufou and opposition leaders Hama Amadou, Mahamane Ousmane, Seyni Oumarou and Amadou Boubacar Cissé (the four who head COPA 2016) have all been active in politics since the early 1990s, when Niger first transitioned to democracy. Their paths have crossed in various ways, and they have been political allies and opponents at different points in time. Most recently, Hama Amadou supported Issoufou in the 2011 presidential run-off against Seyni Oumarou, but fell out with Issoufou in 2014 [see earlier blogpost here].

In the past, the military has intervened three times – in 1996, 1999 and 2010 – at times of political crisis. In December 2015, the government of President Issoufou announced it had thwarted an attempted putsch. Some opposition leaders were arrested for their possible involvement and others after publicly questioning the veracity of the government’s claim that a coup had been in the works.

The opposition has turned down Issoufou’s offer of joining the government and instead decided to boycott the legislature. When the newly elected National Assembly was seated on March 24th, none of the 53 representatives of member parties of COPA 2016 took up their seats in the 171-member legislative body.

To heal the deep political divisions, there is clearly a need for if not a government of national unity, at least some initiative at dialogue, as also called for by CENI president Boubé Ibrahim upon announcing the run-off results. Moving forward, Niger would similarly benefit from greater renewal of political leadership within its main parties to bring in new blood and leaders free from a long history of mutual resentments.

Niger – Analysis of first-round results as President Issoufou prepares to face jailed opponent in run-off

A run-off was not what President Mahamadou Issoufou had hoped for. And Hama Amadou is probably the least favorite second round challenger for Issoufou whose slogan was “Un coup K.O.”, as he aimed to knock out his opponents in the first round of the February 21 presidential poll.

The incumbent president did come in first with 48.4 percent of the vote, against the runner-up, former chairman of the National Assembly Hama Amadou, who garnered 17.8 percent. Issoufou will now have to face an opponent in the second round who has declared himself a “political prisoner:” Hama alleges that the case brought against him and a number of other high-ranking Nigeriens for falsely claiming parenthood of babies born to women in Nigeria is politically motivated.

The election was a nail-biter, with Issoufou’s score at times hovering just around 50 percent, as the election commission (CENI) published results on its website little by little when they became available. The map of Niger gradually became pink – the color of Issoufou’s Party for Democracy and Socialism (PNDS) – except for the region of Tillabery and Niamey, the capital, where blue – the color of Hama’s Lumana party – dominated. The CENI website breaks down the regions into departments, where more colors appear: green around Zinder, for former President Mahamane Ousmane who came in fourth, and lighter rose in the department of Banibangou for former prime minister Seini Oumarou who came in third. The department of Dogondoutchi is yellow, for Issoufou’s former deputy chief of staff Ibrahim Yacouba who parted ways with the PNDS last year and created his own party, the Patriotic Movement of Niger (MPN).

Results from the legislative polls that took place at the same time as the presidential election confirm the relative weight of the leading candidates and their respective parties. The number of deputies in the National Assembly was increased in October 2014 from 113 to 171; Niger uses a proportional election system where percentage of votes closely correlates with percentage of seats won. According to the CENI’s provisional results, the seat distribution is as follows:

  • PNDS – 75 seats (44.1 percent of the vote, up from 33.0 percent in 2011)
  • Lumana – 25 seats (14.7 percent of the vote, down from 19.7)
  • MNSD – 20 seats (11.8 percent of the vote, down from 20.6)
  • MPR – 12 seats (7.1 percent of the vote – the MPR is a splinter party from the MNSD, created in 2015) [the MPR did not present a candidate and supported Issoufou]
  • MNRD/PSDN alliance – 6 seats (3.5 percent of the vote, up from 0) [the MNRD and the PSDN are two small parties that didn’t win any seats in 2011; the MNRD nominated Mahamane Ousmane as its presidential candidate, after Ousmane lost control of his former party, the CDS, last year]
  • MPN – 5 seats (2.9 percent of the vote, not bad for a newly created party)
  • 22 seats more go to 7 smaller parties, leaving 6 seats to be allocated as of the evening of March 1st, according to the CENI’s website.

An analysis of the vote distribution compared to 2011 indicates that the PNDS has done well, increasing its vote share by 11 percentage points and achieving 44 percent of seats, compared to 33 percent of seats in 2011. Issoufou’s personal score, though short of securing him an outright win in the first round, is also up by more than 12 percentage points compared to 2011 (when he got 36.2 percent of the vote in the first round). Issoufou’s ruling coalition, the Movement for the Renaissance of Niger (MNR), has secured more than a comfortable legislative majority with at least 105 seats out of 171, a majority which under Niger’s semi-presidential constitution will enable Issoufou and his allies to appoint the next prime minister and government.

The big loser is the MNSD whose candidate, Seini Oumarou, came in second in 2011 with 23.2 percent in 2011, in contrast to only 12.1 percent of the vote this year. The MNSD also lost votes and legislative seats to the break-away MPR party created following a leadership struggle within the MNSD, after some leading members joined Issoufou’s government in 2013 [see previous post on shifting political alliances in Niger here].

Though Hama Amadou overtakes Seini Oumarou to run against Issoufou in this year’s second round, his personal score is actually down compared to 2011, from 19.8 percent to 17.8 percent of the vote. Similarly, his party, Lumana, lost 5 percentage point of the popular vote in the legislative polls, compared to 2011.

The period leading up to the polls was tense, but election day was peaceful. Despite significant logistical challenges, voter turn-out was an impressive 66.8 percent according to the CENI, well above the 48.8 percent average voter turn-out for past elections. Due to severe delays in the opening of polling stations in many areas, voting had to go into a second day. The leading opposition parties accused the CENI and the government of fraud and threatened to reject the results. However, when a second round was confirmed, the 23 parties that make up the opposition alliance COPA 2016 (the Coalition for Alternation) announced that they would participate and stand by their pre-election agreement to back the opposition candidate who made it to the second round – in this case Hama Amadou. The major parties that form the core of COPA 2016 are Lumana, MNSD, Ousmane’s new party the MNRD and Boubacar Cisse’s UDR (Cisse came in 9th in the presidential election).

As Niger’s 7.5 million voters head to the run-off scheduled for March 20th, there will be intense maneuverings by the two contenders to secure the support of unsuccessful candidates. Ibrahim Yacouba who came in fifth (with 4.4 percent of the vote) is thus courted by both sides. Kassoum Moctar who came in 6th (with 2.9 percent) has already pledged allegiance to Issoufou. This promises to be a hotly contested election that is likely to again mobilize Nigerien voters in unprecedented numbers.

Niger – Legal and political implications of the Speaker fleeing arrest for involvement in baby trafficking

The Speaker of the National Assembly in Niger, Hama Amadou, has left the country after the legislature authorized his arrest for involvement in a baby trafficking case, despite his parliamentary immunity. After first traveling to Burkina Faso, Hama Amadou has left the continent for France, transiting via Belgium. Prior to leaving, he contested the right of the bureau of the National Assembly to authorize his arrest by the police and appealed to the Constitutional Court to interpret article 88 of the Constitution. Feeling ‘threatened by the state,’ Hama left Niger before the Court could render its decision. A former ally of President Mahamadou Issofou, Hama has become the president’s likely chief opponent in the 2016 presidential poll.

The Speaker’s legal push-back is the latest example of a political tradition in Niger established since the first transition to democracy in 1993 – to request the Constitutional Court to clarify and interpret gray areas in the constitution; to serve, in a sense, as arbiter between contending political forces in their reading of the constitution (see earlier posting here, on a dispute regarding elections to the National Assembly bureau). In the present case, the Prime Minister requested authorization by the National Assembly bureau for the Speaker’s arrest and questioning by the police. The bureau obliged, with a sufficient quorum despite the walk-out by 6 opposition representatives. However, while article 88 of the 2010 Constitution enables the bureau of the National Assembly to authorize the arrest of a deputy while the legislature is out of session (as is currently the case), it is silent on the procedure for lifting a deputy’s immunity during an inter-session. The bureau of the National Assembly cannot authorize the arrest of a deputy before the immunity has been lifted.

This whole affair started with a series of newspaper articles appearing in the local press in January 2014, alleging the existence of a baby trafficking ring in which prominent Nigeriens were implicated. Interpol got involved and in June of this year, 17 people (of which 12 women) were arrested on suspicion of buying babies from ‘baby factories’ in Nigeria and claiming them as their own biological children. The trafficking network allegedly involves middlemen in Burkina and Benin. In Niger and other countries in the region, there is social stigma associated with being childless and limited options for fertility treatment. The people arrested included Hama Amadou’s second wife, as well as the wife of the Minister of Agriculture, Abdou Labo. Minister Labo was himself arrested on August 23. Labo is a dissident from the opposition party CDS of former President Mahamane Ousmane. His arrest is an embarrassment for the government and appears to undercut claims that the baby trafficking scandal is a political maneuver to eliminate Hama Amadou as a challenger in the 2016 presidential poll.

The affair happens in the context of persisting tensions between former ally turned opposition leader, Hama Amadou and the parliamentary majority, backing incumbent President Issofou. The majority has tried for months to impeach Hama, without having the sufficient two thirds majority votes among the deputies required to replace him as Speaker. By leaving the country, Hama has in effect removed himself from the position.

What are the legal and political implications of the Speaker vacating his position? A preliminary reading of the Constitution (article 89) would indicate that the National Assembly must hold an extraordinary session to elect a new Speaker. The opposition will, however, likely contest the extent to which the Speaker position is actually vacant, given the pending case in front of the Constitutional Court. The country could thus be in a legal limbo until the Court renders its decision, with the vice-president of the Assembly serving as Interim Speaker. Meanwhile, the opposition has rallied behind Hama Amadou, accusing the government of witch-hunt. It remains to be seen whether Hama Amadou will succeed in clearing his name ahead of the 2016 presidential race. The government of Mamadou Issoufou seemingly has the best cards in hand. The government can stand back and let justice run its course. In contrast, even if Hama is found innocent, leaving the country while his wife remains imprisoned could hurt his image as a statesman.

Niger – Stalemate in the National Assembly

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.

Niger – Shifting alliances in the legislature

President Mahamadou Issoufou’s legislative majority has eroded, paradoxically following a cabinet reshuffle aimed at strengthening the government and internal stability in the face of regional security threats.

How did this happen? When Issoufou of the Niger Party for Democracy and Socialism (PNDS) was elected president in 2011, he won the backing of a solid 83-seat majority in concurrent polls for the 113-seat National Assembly. In the five-party ruling coalition, the PNDS controlled 37 seats and its largest ally, the Nigerien Democratic Movement (MODEN Lumana), 25 seats. Three smaller parties made up the remainder. The president of Lumana, Hama Amadou, was elected speaker of the National Assembly.

In August, 2013, Issoufou reshuffled his cabinet to form a government of ‘national unity’ with the participation of major figures from the largest opposition party, the National Movement for the Development Society (MNSD). The president’s declared intent  was to strengthen internal political stability and to bolster regional security, following terrorist attacks in the northern part of Niger in May.

Claiming he had not been properly consulted, Hama Amadou withdrew his party from the government and joined the MNSD and the Democratic Social Convention (CDS) in the opposition, to form a new alliance (the Alliance for Reconciliation, Democracy and the Republic – ARDR). The MNSD leadership has disavowed its members who have joined the government, without excluding them from the party, however. Together, Lumana, the MNSD and the CDS along with a small fourth party muster 55 seats, two seats short of a majority; and Issoufou is now in the uncomfortable position where the number two position in the hierarchy of the state – the presidency of the National Assembly – is occupied by a leader of the opposition. 

To end the uncertainty caused by the changing political alliances, Issoufou could ask his government to initiate a vote of confidence in the National Assembly, to clarify the current legislative backing of the government. The wild cards are the support from the remaining, smaller parties of the ruling coalition and the extent to which MNSD deputies would vote en bloc – or whether some have shifted alliance to the government.

Should the confidence vote fail or, conversely, should the opposition initiate and win a vote of no-confidence in the government, the prime minister and his cabinet would have to step down. Niger could then be headed towards a period of cohabitation – a situation where executive power is shared between a president and a prime minister from opposing political parties. Under Niger’s semi-presidential system (modeled after the 1958 French constitution), the prime minister is accountable to the legislature. If President Issoufou loses the backing of the National Assembly, he could be forced to appoint a new prime minister who has the support of the new majority. Alternatively, Issoufou could choose to dissolve the legislature and call for fresh elections, but with the risk of losing the majority again.

Niger experienced a turbulent cohabitation period in 1995-96 – which paved the way for the January 1996 coup d’état by General Baré. Many of the political leaders from that time are the same facing off today. Hopefully the lessons learned from that experience still stick. The November plenary debates during the legislative budget session will be a telling test of the government’s continued support in the National Assembly.