Judging by the relative silence in western media, nary a peep does it make. But there are some striking similarities between the unfolding situations in Honduras and Niger. To wit:
Country A) Elected President wants to serve beyond the limits of his constitutionally mandated term. Country B) Elected President wants to serve beyond the limits of his constitutionally mandated term.
Country A) Elected President wants to hold a referendum to change the constitution Country B) Elected President wants to hold a referendum to change the constitution
Country A) Supreme Court decides this is not legal. Country B) Supreme Court decides this is not legal.
Here, however, is where the similarities seem to end.
Country A) The military, backed by opposition leaders, ousts the president.
Country B) The president declares a state of emergency, dissolves the supreme court and arrests the main opposition leader.
A, is of course, Honduras. B is Niger, where aformentioned opposition leader accused President Mamadou Tandja of carrying out the equivalent of a coup. And, it would appear, President Tandja is coming under fire from both the European Union and Economic Community of West African States, both of which have cautioned Tandja over his proposed term-extension. The African Union may also pile on when it meets in Libya for a summit today.
In Niger, the military has so far stayed neutral. But is this the sort of case where the military can act as an check on the power of the president and as a guarantor of the constitution? As usual, Paul Collier has some smart views on this sort of thing.
The only force that leaders truly fear is their own military. After all, a leader is far more likely to lose power as a result of a coup than in an election. Coups are now regarded by liberal opinion as an anachronism: soldiers should stay in barracks. While this is obviously right as an ultimate goal, it is too sweeping in the short term. Introducing elections before checks on power induces an incumbent to uproot the limited checks that might already be in place. This, essentially, was what happened in Zimbabwe, as Mugabe uprooted the tender shoots of the rule of law in order to steal elections with impunity. Ruling out any political role for the military may exclude the only force that might be effective against tyranny.
Despite being unfashionable, coups are undoubtedly treated by incumbents as a serious threat. But they have been an unguided missile, indiscriminately displacing both corrupt and decent regimes. To improve electoral accountability, we need to provide coups with a guidance system. For many years the EU and other international bodies have monitored the conduct of elections, declaring whether they were “free and fair.” However, these judgements have not been linked to any significant consequences. I want to introduce a red and green card system for coups according to the monitoring rules. A verdict of “free and fair” would lead to a red card: a statement that the international community would use its best efforts to put down a coup against this legitimate government…A judgement of “not free or fair”… would mean is that if the military launched a coup, the government would not be protected. Of course, a green card would constitute a signal: the international community would be inviting the military to take action.
Obviously, the situations in Honduras and Niger are different from Collier’s ideal-type of coup. But something to keep in mind.