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Africa

Niger votes for new president

Text by News Wires

Latest update : 2011-03-14

Voters in Niger went to the polls Saturday to pick a new president, in the run-off of a presidential election heralded as the end of a long military rule in one of the world's poorest countries.

REUTERS - Coup-prone Niger, which faces a growing threat from al Qaeda allies on its soil, bids on Saturday for a return to democratic rule with an election run-off between two presidential rivals. 

The vote comes a year after soldiers ousted ex-leader Mamadou Tandja for outstaying his term in office in the West African uranium-producing state.
 
It is due to culminate in the swearing-in of a new civilian leader and the end of junta rule in April.
 
Favourite to win is veteran opposition leader Mahamadou Issoufou, who scored 36 percent in the January first round and has since won endorsements from defeated candidates representing around 30 percent of the total vote.
 
Issoufou stands against Tandja party ally Seyni Oumarou, who scored 23 percent in the first round. Oumarou had the backing of a broad alliance of parties until they defected last month in the hope of securing posts in a future Issoufou government.
 
A desert nation whose uranium riches have drawn billions of dollars of investments, mainly from French nuclear giant Areva, Niger remains one of the poorest countries in the world and has suffered repeated coups since 1960 independence.
 
The election marks a chance for a new start for the country but analysts said challenges remained if it were to break with an era marked by widespread graft and strong-arm governments.
 
"The country does have a new opportunity, but whether it grasps it remains to be seen," said Jeremy Keenan at University of London's School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS).
 
"There is no new blood on the scene. It's been the same old figures since time immemorial -- even Issoufou is part of the furniture," he said, adding that many Nigeriens remained sceptical of the chances of change.
 
Joint patrols
 
The future role of the army will be under scrutiny, with junta leader Salou Djibo set to enjoy a strong reputation abroad and locally if he makes good on promises to hand over power.
 
Recent statements from Djibo have suggested he sees the army as playing a greater role in generating development in a country where two-thirds of the population live on less than $1 a day and life expectancy at birth is just 52.5 years.
 
Aside from droughts that bring regular food crises, Niger now faces a rising threat from al Qaeda-linked fighters who have kidnapped westerners in desert regions and attacked army units.
 
The abduction of two French nationals from an expatriate bar in its capital Niamey in January was the most blatant yet and has prompted international aid groups across the Sahel region to review how they carry out operations to ensure staff safety. The two Frenchmen were later found dead after a failed rescue bid.
 
Niger has since said it plans to step up joint patrols and intelligence-sharing as part of a defence pact with neighbour Mali, which is also under pressure from neighbours and Western powers to do more to tackle the problem.
 
While neither candidate has clearly stated an intention to review contracts in the resource sectors, opponents of Tandja argue a vote for his MNSD party would risk a return to widespread corruption under his government.
 
Tandja himself is in jail facing graft charges after a junta-led investigation found at least $128 million had been stolen from state coffers during his 10-year rule.
 
SOAS's Keenan said it remained questionable how committed the new government would be to exposing corruption under his rule, suggesting it might prefer to sweep some of the misdeeds under the carpet and focus efforts on building the economy.

 

Date created : 2011-03-12

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