(MNSD and Allies)
|CDS -- 22 seats
PNDS -- 13
ANDP -- 11
RDA -- 2
PSDN -- 1
UDPS -- 1
UDP -- 0
PUND -- 0
PRL -- 0
|MNSD -- 29 seats|
UDFP -- 2
UPDP -- 2
|Total = 50||33|
The Alliance had reached an accord that after the first round of the presidential elections which the leaders of all the co-operating parties were free to contest, they would rally behind the candidate with the highest votes in the second and decisive round. The Alliance was formed to block the inheritors of the old single party regime from getting back to power, although their party, the MNSD, had the highest number of votes in the elections. Indeed, the high scores of the MNSD represented something of an embarrassment for the students and trade unions and political parties who had been allied in the Coordination Committee for Democratic Struggles/Comité de Coordination des Luttes Democratiques (COCD), also known as the `democratic forces', who fought for multipartyism as a strategy for regime change. The electoral results therefore bestowed a partial `re-legitimation' on the old power structure. The AFC was a heterogeneous, and to some extent contradictory, alliance because it had within it parties that were socialist, social democratic, pro- and anti-structural adjustment, federalist, and centralist. The Alliance was, therefore, politically fragile and was to be further weakened by internal perceptions and worries about monopoly and exclusion in the distribution of posts.
Following its victory, the AFC set up a ruling triumvirate with Ousmane of the CDS as President, Issoufou of the PNDS as Prime Minister and Djermokoye of the ANDP as President of the National Assembly. It was primarily because of the success of the AFC that the MNSD, the biggest party in the country, was denied control of the government and its leader, Tandja Mamadou, the most popular presidential candidate, was denied access to the presidency. Mamadou showed remarkable maturity by accepting the verdict, although many of his supporters felt he should have contested it, because Article 138 of the electoral code prohibits the prior distribution posts to enhance electoral chances. The formation of the AFC after the first round of the elections, based on an understanding of the allocation of the presidency, the office of the prime minister, and the presidency of the national assembly to the leaders of the CDS, PNDS and ANDP respectively, could have been legally contested. Once in power, however, the ruling coalition was able to maintain its cohesion for only about one year.
The MNSD and its allies were faithful to their promise of pursuing a very active opposition to the regime. It was not easy for the AFC, or any other party for that matter, to rule Niger. The economic crisis was serious and the government could not pay salaries and student bursaries regularly. Not surprisingly, the social scene became very agitated with regular strikes by unions. From 18 to 22 May, 1993, serious students demonstrations against the ruling coalition occurred in which party offices were destroyed. Twenty-seven students were arrested and taken to court for disrupting the public peace and destroying property (Haske, 9 June 1993). Further students demonstrations occurred in Agades on 10 January 1994 and in Niamey on 10 March 1994, in which many students were wounded in clashes with the security forces.
Irked by the rising tempo of social agitation, the AFC government became very intolerant of opposition. The MNSD did not, however, feel intimidated and, indeed, in April 1994 the parliamentary opposition embarked on a campaign of civil disobedience, an activity sanctioned by Article 6 of the 1992 Constitution. On 16 April 1994, the MNSD and the other opposition parties organised a massive demonstration against government policies, the marginalisation of their cadres in the public service and the creeping monopolisation by the AFC of the state apparatus. Ninety-one people, including Tandja Mamadou, the MNSD leader and Andre Salifou, leader of the UPPD, were detained and proceedings for charging them with assault, battery and disruption of public order were set in motion. The AFC majority teamed up to lift the parliamentary immunity of 33 opposition deputies. It was, as Mamadou said, a travesty of democracy: We consider that the proper procedures were once again violated here, because one part of the National Assembly cannot be at one and the same time judge and prosecutor. The deputies of the opposition did not have the opportunity to defend themselves (West Africa, 16 May 1994).
It was clear that the AFC was very jittery at the effectiveness of the opposition and tried unsuccessfully to use state power to repress it. The eventual collapse of the AFC was, however, more linked to its inability to maintain its internal cohesion.
THE 1992 CONSTITUTIONAL AND POLITICAL CRISES
The December 1992 Constitution, which established the institutions of the Nigerien Third Republic, was very similar to the constitution of the French Fifth Republic. The Third Republic was based on a multiparty system with the provision that political parties must have a national, secular and republican orientation. The President was to be elected for five years and s/he could only be re-elected once. The legislature was to be elected on a proportional basis and also allowed to serve for five years. As with the French version, the constitution was semi-presidential. That meant that the President needed parliamentary support to govern through his/her prime minister and when s/he lost such support, the tradition was either a dissolution of the National Assembly and the conduct of new elections that might produce a new majority for the president or co-habitation, which meant calling upon the opposition to the president to constitute the government. It is a system that is difficult to operate even in France, as has been witnessed in relation to the two co-habitations that occurred during Franµois Mitterand's fourteen-year rule.
The central idea that underpins the French constitutional system is that the president presides and the prime minister governs, and that, to say the least, is ambiguous. Constitutionally, the president has powers to appoint the prime minister and the government. S/He is also the commander-in-chief of the army and has powers to direct the country's foreign policy. At the same time, the constitution defines the prime minister as the Head of the Government which s/he has powers to direct, conduct and coordinate. The prime minister is responsible for the execution of laws and s/he can delegate his/her powers to his/her ministers. However, s/he is legally obliged to call upon the president to preside over the meetings of the executive council based on an agenda which s/he draws up. The government, under the leadership of the prime minister, determines and conducts national policy. The prime minister is also charged with the administration of the armed forces although the president has responsibility for defence policy. The prime minister is responsible to the national assembly for the conduct of government business.
The major strength of the constitutional provisions of the Third Republic is that it was consciously fabricated to allow for a genuine division of powers between the main institutions of government, namely the presidency, the executive/cabinet and the legislature, with the judiciary playing a significant arbitration role. The electoral code with its proportional system of representation deepened this tendency by allowing many parties to get a share of the seats in the national assembly. There were even eight special seats reserved for ethnic minorities whose population was too small to allow them win seats even in a proportional electoral system. The major weakness of the constitution, however, was the rather blurred line between the powers of the institutions, especially the presidency and the cabinet. In addition, there was a contradiction between the spirit of the constitution which assumed the necessity of a parliamentary majority to govern and the letter of the electoral code which favoured the presence of small parties in the National Assembly. With 19 parties recognised, it was unlikely that any party would have got a sufficient majority to allow it to govern alone.
The first signs of a crack within the AFC government came in September 1993 when the ANDP published a communique in which it complained that in spite of its role in clinching the victory of the Alliance, its cadres were being excluded from state prebends. It mentioned specifically that the party had been denied the quota of directorships of government departments and parastatals that it had been promised and that the CDS and PNDS had monopolised most of the posts. This was to set the tone for much of the political crises that developed subsequently , crises which the press christened prebendal wasoso. The final crack that led to the demise of the AFC government centred on the conflict between the president and his prime minister. On 21 September 1994 Muhammadou Ousmane published a decree reorganising the presidency. In essence, it transferred many services from the Prime Minister's office to the presidency, including the Cabinet Office, sections of the police and security forces, the Secretariat of the Council of Ministers, State Protocol, and the State Inspectorate Division. The decree clearly undermined the semi-presidential nature of the regime and was meant to cripple the powers of the prime minister.
Mohamadou Issoufou refused to accept the scaling down of his powers and eventually resigned from the post of prime minister on 28 September 1994. He argued that he decided to resign because he no longer enjoyed the support that will enable him to pursue the collective AFC programme which had been accepted by the National Assembly. The president wanted the PNDS to present another candidate for the prime minister's office but the party refused, opting instead to side with its leader. On 30 September 1994 the PNDS withdrew from the AFC, and by that act the Alliance lost its majority, as it was left with only 37 of the 83 seats in parliament. The PNDS had argued that it left the AFC because of creeping regionalism, ethno-centricism and corruption.
However, since the PNDS leader was the effective leader of the government while he was still the prime minister, his attempt to dissociate himself and his party from the vices of the ruling elite were not very credible. As Souley Adji has argued in his `Rose Story' series in the Alternative (12 October 1994), it is the story of a beautiful bride and her divorce based on an enduring principle -- `promoting the love of prebends, not the war over principles' (faisons l'amour des prebends, pas la guerre des principes). Indeed, there is no other way of understanding the ease with which the PNDS was able to switch its alliance from the AFC to the MNSD, the party it has devoted all its energies to combating. Only two PNDS leaders, Adji Kirgam and Mazou Ibrahim, publicly disagreed with the decision to ally with the MNSD and they were expelled for anti-party activities, an act that might have made other potential dissidents shut up.
Apparently, the president's calculation in provoking the split with Issoufou was that he would be able to reconstitute another majority with the MNSD or a faction of it. In a sense, the MNSD led the president up the garden path because it had consistently maintained it was prepared to cooperate with the president but only on condition that he broke with the PNDS. When the PNDS left and he contacted the MNSD to form a new alliance with him, they refused and opted instead to team up with their PNDS protagonists. It was a surprising alliance because the whole `progressive' history of the PNDS, from its days in students' radicalism to the formation of the party, had been built on a vigorous critique of and struggles against the MNSD oligarchy. An alliance with that party was therefore the last thing that was expected. But then as the saying goes, there are no permanent friends or permanent enemies in politics.
Following the withdrawal of the PNDS from the government and the inability of the president to get factions of either the PNDS or the MNSD to join his party to constitute a new government, he appointed a close confidant, Souley Abdulaye, who was his former campaign manager, the treasurer of his party and finance minister, to head a new CDS-dominated government. The establishment of this government was clearly at odds with the spirit of the Nigerien constitution, which assumes that governments need parliamentary majorities to rule. On 16 October 1994, the parliament, with the combined strength of the MNSD and the PNDS, passed a vote of no confidence in Abdulaye, thus bringing down the 11-day-old government. The president eventually decided to use his constitutional prerogatives to dissolve the National Assembly and call for new elections.
The election campaigns started on 9 December 1994 in an environment of charged social tension. Salary arrears for the public sector had mounted to five months and workers were literally hungry and angry. The unions were bitterly opposed to a new labour legislation enforcing a 'no work, no pay policy' and requiring a longer notice before unions could embark on industrial action. A regular general strike -- organised every Wednesday since the beginning of November 1994 -- against the social policies of the government, had become a feature of the polity. There were also intense debates over the material organisation of the elections and suspicions of rigging, a situation that enhanced mutual checks and balances over electoral procedures that clearly helped to discourage temptations for rigging that might have existed. The elections, like the others before it, turned out to have been free and fair. The president and his remaining AFC allies lost the elections.
Table 2 Results of the January 1995 Parliamentary Elections
MNSD and its allies
|MNSD -- Nassara||29||CDS -- Rahama||24|
|PNDS -- Tarayya||12||ANDP -- Zaman Lahiya||9|
|UPDP -- Chamoua||1||PUND -- Salama||3|
|PPN/RDA||1||PSDN -- Alheri||2|
|UDPS -- Amana||2|
After the elections, the president had no option but to reluctantly accept the principle of co-habitation. He asked the new majority to submit the names and curriculum vitae of three people from which he would choose a new prime minister. They, however, decided among themselves whom they wanted, so they gave him only one name, Hama Amadou of the MNSD. He refused to appoint him and instead appointed Ahmadou Cisse, also of the MNSD, on 7 February 1994. Although he was a member of the opposition MNSD party, Cisse agreed to serve without the approval of his party. Cisse had been a World Bank staff in Washington since 1982 and had illusions that his country needed a `good' technocrat like himself who could stand above partisan politics and serve the `vital' national economic interests of Niger such as getting an accord signed with the IMF and getting the economy to benefit from the devaluation of the CFA franc (see his interview in Le Sahel, 9 February 1995).
The day after Ahmadou Cisse accepted the post of prime minister, he was expelled from the MNSD and not a single member of the new majority agreed to cooperate with him. He finally got the message and immediately packed his bags and went back to Washington. The president also got the message and agreed to appoint the candidate of the new majority as the co-habitation prime minister. Hama Amadou of the MNSD and candidate of the new majority was appointed prime minister on 21 January 1995 to head the fourth government of the Third Republic.
EXPLAINING THE SUCCESS OF MNSD -- NASSARA
As has already been noted in the first part of this essay, the success of the MNSD in moving from opposition to power was against many odds. Since the wind of democratic change blew over Niger and the organisation of the National Conference, considerable effort and resources had been committed to the marginalisation of the MNSD by those who considered themselves the `democratic forces'. The party, however, was able to sustain its struggle for power and eventually win the elections. What is the reason for its success?
According to Hama Amadou, General Secretary of the MNSD and Prime Minister, the parties in the AFC coalition lacked political experience, were amateurish in the implementation of their programmes, and were thus unable to address the catastrophic economic situation in the country. It is doubtful that the MNSD itself, even if it had a free hand in governing, could have been more successful in resolving the serious economic crises which had been brewing since the early 1980s when its cadres were in power. Nonetheless, the fact that the parties in the AFC had obtained power partly because they had promised economic and political change and were then unable to deliver on their promises weakened their political support considerably and created the basis for their defeat in the 1995 elections. Their lack of experience must have been a factor in terms of their own overestimation of what could be realistically achieved in the situation.
The second factor that explains the success of the MNSD as an opposition party was the fragility of the AFC coalition in power. It was an heterogeneous group and unnatural alliance by parties that had no ideological similarities or common values. It was thus easy for a minor conflict to provoke a breakdown as happened following the withdrawal of the PNDS on 28 September 1994 (Niandou Souley 1995).
Thirdly, the MNSD was very successful in playing its role as an opposition party. Despite its defeat in the 1993 elections, the party succeeded in maintaining its cohesion in spite of efforts by its rivals to destabilise its national and local structures. The party was able to concentrate on its principal objective of preparing for the next elections. It sustained its role as the major opposition party, a sincere player in the democratic game and a viable alternative government. This credibility as a government-in-waiting helped to sustain the cohesion of the party and the morale of its members. The early signs of the fragility of the AFC were an encouragement in this regard.
Fourthly, there was the growing disappointment of Nigeriens with the AFC government due to the numerous promises that were not kept. After the initiation of multipartyism following the explosion of democratic demands, the political parties focused their campaign on the notion of change (changement), raising a lot of popular enthusiasm and expectations in the process. When the AFC came into power, however, it maintained the `traditional' kinds of conduct linked to the exercise of power in the country, including authoritarian and corrupt practices. An impression was soon created that the new regime was not composed of sincere democrats, but of people who were using democracy as a springboard for achieving their selfish ambitions. Not surprisingly, the people soon developed the expression changer le changement, implying that if the AFC represented the change that they had been craving for and had been promised, then they did not want it; so the so-called change must be changed.
The success of the MNSD poses the issue of the historical reverses which the `democratic forces' that came to power in the early 1990s in Africa are suffering. Are the `authoritarian forces' staging a come-back? Are the democratic processes under threat? The Kerekou come-back in Benin and the attempts by Kenneth Kaunda in Zambia, Pierre Buyoya in Burundi, Sasso Nguesso in Congo, etc, to come back pose serious challenges. But the experience of Niger would seem to be reassuring. The return of the MNSD to power was not based on a resort to its old authoritarian methods, but on its ability to adapt to the new democratic game as a faithful convert. The attempt by the AFC to control the mass media and the various violations of the law it committed seriously eroded its democratic credentials at the same time as the democratic image of the MNSD was improving. The success of the MNSD and the logic of co-habitation that was imposed therefore had a democratic character.
COHABITATION AND INTENSIFICATION OF POLITICAL CRISES
The coming to power of Hama Amadou of the MNSD was the first case of co-habitation in Francophone Africa and was therefore an interesting experiment. The period of co-habitation, however, was marked by only a few months of peaceful co-existence in the corridors of power. A major crisis erupted when the prime minister started removing AFC cadres from the governmental apparatus and replacing them with his own appointees. From 6 April 1995, the president started boycotting the meetings of the Council of Ministers, (which he had the constitutional obligation of presiding over), and refusing to see the prime minister. In July 1995, the prime minister announced the removal of the managers of parastatals. He used the security forces to physically eject them from their offices and replaced them with his own appointees. The president reacted by asking him to remove the new appointees and the security forces from the parastatals before he will allow the Council of Ministers to meet. The prime minister insisted that he would do nothing of that sort before the Council meeting and demanded that the president discipline the chief of his Presidential guards whom he alleged had attempted to assassinate him.
As the stand-off intensified, the prime minister decided to take over certain presidential prerogatives, including convening and presiding over two meetings of the Council of Ministers. The president declared the decisions taken at the two meetings illegal. The prime minister then raised the stakes further by `inviting' the president to a ministerial meeting he had convened and signing decrees, a move which the Supreme Court immediately declared illegal. By early August 1995, it was clear that both sides were not willing to negotiate or compromise and, above all, they were not willing to stick by the rules and regulations which they had sworn to protect when they took their oaths of office. The contention went to the Supreme Court which ruled on 6 September 1995 that constitutionally the president was entitled to call and preside over the meetings of the Council of Ministers. The agenda for such meetings, however, was to be fixed through consultation between the president and the prime minister. If they could not agree, then the Council itself was entitled to fix the agenda.
As the crises deepened, the president made it clear that he was going to dissolve the National Assembly and call for another round of elections. It appeared that he had only been waiting for the constitutionally defined minimum period of 12 months before once again dissolving parliament. To counter the dissolution threat, the prime minister announced that even if parliament was dissolved, he would insist on staying in office until the new elections were held. On 26 January 1996 Muhammadu Issoufou, former prime minister and the incumbent president of the National Assembly, formally lodged a request with the Supreme Court for the removal of the president on the grounds of incapacity to govern. The experiment in co-habitation had not been allowed to function. Clearly, the main actors in the political drama that was unfolding had blocked the operations of the political institutions and the political process, a pretext which the then Col Ibrahim Bare Mainasara used to justify the coup d'état which he led on 27 January 1996. That military takeover ended the increasingly turbulent experience of Niger's Third Republic.
CONCLUSION: THE FRAGILITY OF DEMOCRACY
One of the signs of mature democracies is the possibility of opposition parties to come to power through the electoral process. The MNSD opposition party in Niger was able to get to power through the ballot, but the bullet put a stop to the experiment. A democratic political culture has not yet been routinised in Niger. The political class was not playing by the rules of the game and, in the process, created an excuse for the military to intervene again in the nation's affairs. Their politics of brinkmanship and their determination to eliminate their rivals from power created a situation in which their collective interest was put at risk. It appears, however, that once out of power, the politicians have started to learn some useful lessons, a process facilitated by the less than honourable way in which Ibrahim Bare Mainasara, newly self-promoted General, has been manoeuvring to cling on to power.
The coup leaders had presented themselves as `saviours' of democracy who intervened only to correct the institutional ills of the Third Republic with a view to returning the country to democratic rule by December 1996. The international community objected strongly to the intervention and intense pressure was put on the military to go back to the barracks immediately and allow democratic institutions and procedures to be employed in sorting out the problems that had emerged. Most observers in Niger, however, were of the view that some drastic institutional changes were necessary if their country's democracy was to survive. Four days after coming to power, the junta called a National Forum which came up with the idea that the way forward was to change the constitution to a presidential type in which the president's powers would not be easily contested by his/her other colleagues in the executive branch of government. It was also suggested that the electoral code be changed to a first-past-the-post system so that it would be easier for one party to emerge with a clear majority.
The major protagonists of the Third Republic -- the former president Mahamane Ousmane, the former prime minister Hama Amadou, and the former president of the National Assembly, Mohamadou Issoufou -- appeared on television in early February 1996 to read a joint declaration before the acting president of the Supreme Court stating that:
The military coup was due essentially to difficulties arising from the application of the fundamental laws of the Republic, in particular, the Constitution of 26th December 1992 (Le Democrate, 12 February 1996).
The three men then called for a new electoral code and a constitutional revision and its adoption by referendum. Pressure from the international community in general and France in particular compelled the new military leadership to shorten its transition programme from eleven months to six months and the question that is now posed is that of transition to what.
The new electoral and constitutional proposals were rushed through committees and put before a constitutional referendum which was held on 12 May 1996. The new constitution was approved by 90 per cent of the electorate with a participation level of about 35 per cent. Presidential elections were scheduled for 7 July 1996 and General Ibrahim Bare Mainasara announced his intention to contest for the presidency as an independent candidate. Meanwhile, the political playing ground was not level because General Mainasara had been campaigning in office, while political activities remained banned until 20 May 1996. It became clear that the General had intervened on the political scene to take and keep power, not to fix the political system in the interest of democracy. The six major political parties in the country, including the MNSD and the CDS, came together in June 1996 to establish a Republican pact to checkmate General Mainasara's attempts to discredit the whole political class and remain in power. If the Nigerien political class has learned the lesson that keeping to democratic rules is a question of collective self-interest and that the real political enemy is not the other political party, but the military, then the march towards democracy in the country could still be salvaged.
Department of Political Science,
Ahmadu Bello University,
Abdoulaye Niandou Souley
Faculté des Sciences Economiques et Juridiques
Université de Niamey,