Niger's foreign minister has defended her government's right to hold two disputed polls this year that incurred international sanctions, and strongly denied the country has been isolated.
Aichatou Mindaoudou insisted a "real" opposition existed in the west African country despite the ruling party winning an overwhelming parliamentary majority in polls boycotted by the opposition.
Mindaoudou told AFP in an interview Monday that the National Movement for a Developing Society (MNSD) "won in brilliant fashion these elections in which a part of the political class (the opposition) decided not to take part".
"That too is democracy! It's not for the first time in Africa or elsewhere, and yet elsewhere it's not perceived as an obstacle to democracy or a weakness in it."
The 15-nation Economic Community of West African States suspended Niger in the wake of the disputed October 20 polls.
The European Union this month provisionally froze development aid to Niger and gave the government a month to open consultations with a view to restoring "constitutional order."
The minister blasted western governments for daring to give Niger "lessons in democracy".
"We know plenty of so-called democratic countries whose leaders are elected several times without limit and that doesn't bother anyone.
"In Europe, like in the United States, successive mandates are renewed for 20 or 30 years for politicians and when they retire, their children are elected in their place! Why should that not be feasible in Africa?"
Criticism has piled up in the weeks since President Mamadou Tandja staged an August 4 referendum that allowed him to stay in power until 2012, despite being due to step down in December when his two successive five-year terms ended.
The vote went ahead after weeks of opposition protests.
A former law professor, Mindaoudou said the August 4 referendum was a "regular procedure" to adopt a new constitution.
"A new constitution was proposed to the people (...) who adopted it with an overwhelming majority. It was a regular procedure and I don't think that it is a negative signal," the minister added.
Mindaoudou said that Niamey would try to "hold constructive negotiations" with the EU.
In the meantime, applying the Cotonou accords that govern relations between the EU and developing countries, the EU has suspended development aid amounting to 458 million euros (686 million dollars) for the period 2008-2013.
Humanitarian aid has not been affected.
"There will never be any question for Niger of doing without the European Union or any other development partner (...) in respect for our sovereignty and on a basis of mutual respect, the win-win principle," she said.
"Dialogue with the international community has never been severed. I have no doubt that we will arrive at an understanding."
With ECOWAS? "The bridges aren't broken and Niger hasn't been excluded," Mindaoudou said, pointing out that the regional body has appointed a mediator, the Nigerian former military ruler Abdulsalami Abubakar.
The minister said Tandja "has always been open to dialogue".
"It's simply a matter of enabling the other political actors to take their place again so that together we can achieve, as usual, positions that are acceptable to everybody."
Source: AFP Global Edition