NIAMEY, Niger — Despite threats by rebel nomads, Niger held its first open election in 32 years Saturday, a referendum on a constitution that would allow multi-party presidential and legislative balloting next year.
A national democracy conference ousted President Ali Saibou in November, 1991, and put transitional Prime Minister Amadou Cheiffou in power. Multi-party elections have already been postponed three times.
Saibou, who was forced to call the conference by strikes and protests, retains influence over the military.
Cheiffou recently dissolved his government, saying it couldn't cope with the problems facing the country of 7 million. A fall in the price of uranium, Niger's main export, has sharply reduced export earnings, and recurring droughts have forced it to import food.
The results of Saturday's vote--the first since independence from France 32 years ago--were not expected before Monday. The ballot was monitored by international observers.
Voter turnout in the predominantly Muslim West African country was low. Many people had to travel great distances to cast their ballots.
In many areas, husbands prohibited their wives from voting and tried to vote twice, once for themselves and once for the women, national radio reported. Women represent half of the country's 4 million registered voters.
There was general disorganization at some polling stations and a lack of voting cards. But a threat by the rebels, some of them trained by Libya, to disrupt the voting failed to come about, early reports indicated.
The Tuareg nomads, who make up 3% of Niger's population, want to secede or win autonomy. They have raided government outposts, and government troops are accused of killing hundreds of Tuareg civilians in revenge.
A truce in May collapsed after two weeks, as have previous efforts to end Tuareg rebellions in Niger and neighboring Mali.