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The president versus the prisoner in Niger’s presidential run-off

© Nicolas Germain, FRANCE 24 | Voters stand in line in Niger

Text by Nicolas GERMAIN

Latest update : 2016-02-28

The second round of voting in Niger on March 20 will pit the incumbent, President Mahamadou Issoufou, against his rival Hama Amadou, who is currently behind bars. FRANCE 24’s Nicolas Germain reports from Niamey.

It's not easy organising an election in one of the world's poorest nations – many in Niger do not even have ID cards.

For this election a biometric system was planned like that successfully used for a vote in neighbouring Nigeria last year, where the population is ten times bigger, at 180 million people. But the new system was not ready in time, so Niger’s authorities allowed those without documentation to vote as long as two other people were willing to vouch for their identities.

During the campaign, incumbent Issoufou said he was certain of a knock-out win in the first round; a scenario that has occurred in recent months in presidential polls in Guinea, Ivory Coast and Burkina Faso.

Fourteen candidates were up against Issoufou including two former prime ministers, Seyni Oumarou and the imprisoned Hama Amadou. The latter was allowed to run despite being behind bars and awaiting trial, accused of involvement in a baby-trafficking scandal. Amadou has always claimed his innocence but was not able to campaign, and we saw his supporters parading noisily with vuvuzelas in the streets of Niamey.

On election day, many polling stations opened several hours late due to logistical problems; in some areas voting was delayed by a day. But there were no major security incidents as feared, and no Boko Haram attacks in the Diffa region, where the terrorist group has operated in recent months.

Then began the long wait for the final results – five days instead of the usual two or three. Every day the electoral commission would announce partial results in each region in a large assembly room in front of sleepy journalists.

In the streets of Niamey many were getting impatient. “They have to give the results quickly so that tensions can go down,” one resident told us. He said the longer the wait, the higher the risk of fraud. Many of Niger's voters told us that their priorities were education and employment.

Over the course of the week the opposition coalition held two press conferences to denounce fabricated results, fake polling stations and fake voter cards.

On Friday everyone was on tenterhooks. For several days partial results had indicated that Issoufou was close to winning the 50% needed to avoid a run-off. But in the end he just missed his target and garnered 48% of the vote. It was a severe setback for him.

Outside Amadou's party headquarters his supporters celebrated wildly. The opposition leader made it to the second round. “From the prison to the presidency, like Nelson Mandela!” they shouted enthusiastically.

Before the first round, the main opposition leaders had vowed to rally around whoever among them came first. In 2011 a similar pact had been made, but it was broken when Amadou – who came third – chose in the end to support Issoufou.

Issoufou argues that he has built up the country’s infrastructure over the past five years and has become a major partner for the West in the struggle against jihadists in the Sahel. The US and France both have drone bases in Niger. In a chaotic region, the country seems a relative haven of stability: To the north lies the Libyan conflict, jihadists remain active in northern Mali to the west and Boko Haram threatens Nigeria to the south.

Date created : 2016-02-28

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