Niger to hold tense solo run-off

2016-03-18 19:00
 Hama Amadou. (Boureima Hama, AFP)

Hama Amadou. (Boureima Hama, AFP)

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Niamey - With the main challenger airlifted from jail to a Paris hospital and an opposition boycott, President Mahamdou Issoufou seems certain to win re-election on Sunday in Niger, one of the world's poorest countries.

Sunday's second-round ballot is the first-ever run-off in this vast African nation of some 18 million people which is increasingly facing jihadist attacks.

It pits the 64-year-old Issoufou, a former mining engineer nicknamed "the Lion", against former ally Hama Amadou, 66, known as "the Phoenix" for his ability to make political comebacks.

Amadou has been forced to campaign from behind bars after being detained on November 14 on baby-trafficking charges he says are bogus and aimed at keeping him out of the race.

Then just days before the vote, he was evacuated from prison and flown to Paris for medical treatment, with the government saying he was suffering from an unspecified "chronic ailment."

This unprecedented situation has sparked a government boycott and created a tense atmosphere in the country where three-quarters of the population live on less than $2 a day.

Niger's history is peppered with military coups and it has only had a multi-party democracy since 1990.

The run-up to the first-round vote was marred by violence between supporters of the rival camps, the arrest of several leading political personalities and the government's announcement that it had foiled a coup bid.

Unfair treatment

Issoufou, who is seeking a second term in office, took a solid lead with 48.4% in the initial vote on February 21, way ahead of Amadou, who scored 17.7%.

During the campaign, Issoufou, who took office in 2011, repeatedly pledged to bring prosperity to this desolate but uranium-rich country and prevent further jihadist attacks in its vast remote northern deserts and from Nigeria's Boko Haram Islamists to the south.

Just three days before the vote, Niger suffered two jihadist attacks - one in the west claimed by Al-Qaeda's north African affiliate which killed three gendarmes and another by Boko Haram in which a senior army officer died.

Although Amadou, a former parliamentary speaker, backed Issoufou in 2011, he shifted into opposition in 2013.

His supporters accuse Issoufou's regime of bad governance, saying it has failed to eradicate poverty in the country.

But a clear-cut victory appears assured for Issoufou, who missed winning an absolute majority in the first round by just 75 000 votes.

He has managed to secure the support of former deputy cabinet head Ibrahim Yacouba and two other low polling candidates from the initial round.

The opposition has alleged fraud in the first round, claiming "unfair treatment between the two candidates" and has raised fears of Sunday's vote ending with a Stalinesque result.

Opposition demands new vote

On Thursday, the opposition coalition said it would not recognise the results and called for "a political transition" to pave the way for "democratic, free, legitimate, transparent and honest" elections.

The declaration drew scorn from the regime.

"We don't need their recognition," said Mohamed Bazoum, a minister without portfolio and key figure in the Issoufou regime.

"They are not united. Some of them even tried to get Hama Amadou to withdraw."

Amadou's imprisonment since November in the town of Filingue, about 180km from the capital Niamey, took a dramatic turn recently with the government saying he was in poor health and suffering from eye problems.

Amadou was supposed to be evacuated from prison to a hospital in Niamey but the government said it could not do so as the helicopter due to airlift him had broken down.

But the official version on Amadou's ailment changed with the government saying he was suffering from an unspecified "chronic ailment" and he was evacuated on Wednesday to Paris for medical treatment.

Read more on:    hama amadou  |  niger  |  west africa

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