October 22, 2009 / 7:37 PM / 9 years ago

UPDATE 1-Tandja party claims win in boycotted Niger vote

* Tandja’s MNSD claims majority of seats in parliament

* Results to strengthen president’s grip on power

* Analysts say Tandja unlikely to yield to foreign pressure

(Recasts, updates with MNSD claim of majority)

By Abdoulaye Massalatchi

NIAMEY, Oct 22 (Reuters) - Niger’s ruling party claimed victory on Thursday in a parliamentary poll that has cost the West African nation membership in the regional bloc and deepened its president’s pariah status.

President Mamadou Tandja’s MNSD party said it had won more than half of 113 seats in parliament, an outcome widely expected by observers after opposition parties boycotted the election.

The majority win tightens Tandja’s grip on power in the uranium producing desert nation, where he has already prolonged his stint in charge and scrapped term limits by altering the constitution.

The election led West Africa’s regional bloc ECOWAS this week to suspend Niger’s membership, a move that follows a European Union aid freeze in July.

The government in Niamey has shrugged off criticism that it is undermining democracy, saying regional powers have “misunderstood” the political situation in the country.

Tandja has said he needs broad power to oversee the country’s multi-billion dollar mining contracts.

Preliminary results early on Thursday showed the MNSD had won 21 of 25 seats announced. Complete results of the election are not yet available.

“From the results that we have already processed, I estimate that we had a good turnout as it was between 40 and 50 percent,” said Moumouni Hamidou, president of the election commission.

Former Tandja allies Mahamadou Issoufou of the PNDS party and Mahamane Ousmane, head of the CDS party and leader of the dissolved parliament, boycotted the poll and have rejected the constitution that was adopted in August.

“On the face of it the president has been able to push through his desired changes, but he has alienated much of the domestic and international polity,” IHS Global Insight analyst Nana Adu Ampofo said in a note.

Analysts say threats from donors and regional blocs are undermined by the fact Niger has already secured multi-billion dollar investments from French uranium mining group Areva and Chinese oil firms.

“Given the support of the military, to which Tandja once belonged, and the relative equanimity of major economic partners outside the region, Tandja is unlikely to bend,” Ampofo said. (Writing by Richard Valdmanis and David Lewis; Editing by Daniel Magnowski)

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