The West African state of Niger heads to the polls on Monday, almost a year after the army took power in a coup d’état against then President Mamadou Tandja. Voters will choose between three of his political allies and one opponent.
AFP - Niger's junta leader called on voters for a massive turnout Monday to close the door on military rule by electing a new, civilian president to head one of the world's poorest countries.
The Sahelian country's 6.7 million registered voters must choose between three former allies of deposed ex-president Mamadou Tandja and a longtime opponent of the former leader.
The new president will have the task of leading one of the world's top uranium producers out from under the shadow of the growing threat of Al-Qaeda-linked militants.
Junta leader Salou Djibo voted in Niamey's city hall, accompanied by other members of his leadership team and appealed for a large turnout after polling booths opened at 8:00 am (0700 GMT) for the presidential and legislative elections.
The ruling junta took power in a February coup last year and has vowed to usher in civilian rule and no junta member was up for election.
"I call on all the people of Niger to come out to vote in massive numbers to elect their deputies and president," he said, saying the polls offer "a new start for Niger."
"This new start will allow authorities freely elected by the people to work and devote themselves to the development of Niger," he added.
Several candidates have emerged from a scrum of 10 running for the presidency.
Chief among them is opposition leader Mahamadou Issoufou, whose Social Democratic Party represents change. He faces a challenge from three other candidates.
They include Seini Oumarou, the anointed follower of Tandja, who is still languishing in jail, and whose National Movement for the Development of Society he leads.
Former prime minister Hama Amadou is also close to the deposed leader while Niger's first democratically-elected president in 1993, Mahamane Ousmane, is trying for another term.
Oumarou, Amadou and Ousmane have created a stir by forging a pact meant to deny Issoufou victory should no candidate emerge with an overall majority and the presidential poll goes to a second round, scheduled for March 12.
In the event one of them finds himself in a head-to-head against the social democrat the other two will give him their full backing.
In Niamey, voters lined up in small groups outside polling stations which are open until 1800 GMT.
Voting in a primary school, Djibo Hadjara, a 30-year-old female teacher, said she wanted the next president "to help the poor and above all teachers and students."
And student Amadou Hassane said whoever wins must develop the farming sector in a country beset by recurring food emergencies.
"Begging to eat in the 21st century, it's a real shame for Niger," he added.
The new president will also have to deal with the growing threat posed by Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), which has stepped up abductions of Westerners in the Sahel.
Al-Qaeda's regional offshoot claimed it seized five French hostages along with a Togolese and a Madagascan in September from Niger's uranium mining town of Arlit who were later taken across the border into Mali.
Earlier this month, AQUIM kidnapped two 25-year-old Frenchmen from a Niamey restaurant and the two were later found dead in Mali after a failed attempt by French special forces to rescue them.
The junta took power last year to end a crisis triggered by then president Tandja's attempts to extend his rule beyond the constitutional limits.
Tanja will be following the vote from prison, where he was transferred in mid-January from house arrest on allegations of financial misappropriation.
All main candidates in the former French colony have similar platforms, with fighting poverty, which afflicts 60 percent of the population, the main goal along with a more equitable distribution of income, notably from the mining of uranium of which Niger is a leading producer.
Niger's history in the 50 years since independence has been a series of coups and military regimes.
Date created : 2011-01-31