Niger's Issoufou wins presidential race

2011-03-14 19:15

Niamey - Veteran opposition leader Mahamadou Issoufou was declared victor Monday of presidential polls ending a year-long military junta in Niger, which remains deeply poor despite massive uranium stores.

In his fifth shot at the country's top job, the 59-year-old leader of the Social Democratic Party won 1.8 million, or 57.95%, of votes, said electoral commission head Gousmane Abdourahamane at a ceremony in Niamey.

Former prime minister Seini Oumarou, 60, took 42.05% of the votes cast in the runoff election on Saturday.

Voter turnout was 48.17 %, down from 51.56% in the first round on January 31, he said.

The election in the vast desert nation, which has a history of coups, is aimed at returning democracy after former president Mamadou Tandja was ousted in a military coup in February 2010.

After a decade in power, Tandja had plunged the country into crisis when he attempted to extend his rule beyond the constitutional limits.

The military junta that took power from him vowed to usher in a civilian government, and none of its members ran in the election.

Sworn in on April 6

The provisional results announced on Monday must be sent to the constitutional council which has 15 days to proclaim the final outcome. Issoufou, a longtime opponent to Tandja's regime, is due to be sworn in on April 6.

At a press conference at his home, Issoufou thanked Nigerians for "the five-year mandate, to serve them".

Dressed in a traditional flowing, white boubou and red hat, he said the population had voted with "wisdom in calm, transparently, showing great political maturity".

Surrounded by security and supporters, he also thanked the outgoing junta for its tact and responsibility.

Observers from the African Union and Economic Community of West African States (Ecowas) and France lauded the country for its peaceful election.

The former colonial power said acceptance of the result was "essential".

Issoufou was the favourite after taking the lead in the first round vote on January 31.

Example to Africa

The Social Democratic Party chief strengthened his candidacy by forging alliances, especially with Hama Amadou, another former premier under Tandja who garnered 19% in the first round vote.

The junta leader, General Salou Djibo, was among the first to cast his vote on Saturday.

"If we can hold a successful election then together we will have accomplished bringing about a democracy that can serve as an example to Africa," he said.

During the election campaign, both candidates promised to dissolve parliament and organise legislative elections for a more representative assembly in the vast, landlocked country on the edge of the Sahara desert.

And they vowed to tackle the poverty that afflicts some 60% of the people in the impoverished nation, find protection against cyclical food crises, and assure an equitable distribution of the wealth from uranium.

Since independence from France in 1960, Niger has been wracked by coups and faced a Tuareg rebellion in the north of the country.

And in recent years it has become one of the bases for Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), which has been responsible for kidnappings and killings of Westerners in the region.