Niger: Nation Stages Historic Election Despite Jihadist Attacks

Mohamed Bazoum, tipped to win the election, speaks at a campaign event speech at Diffa in southeastern Niger.
27 December 2020

A former interior minister is widely tipped to take over the West African nation's presidency. But whoever succeeds faces huge security and economic challenges in a country the UN says is the world's poorest.

Polls opened Sunday in Niger's presidential election that is expected to see the country's first democratic power transfer since independence from France amid Islamist violence.

Former Interior Minister Mohamed Bazoum, the ruling party's candidate, is the overwhelming favorite to succeed President Mahamadou Issoufou, who is stepping down after two five-year terms.

The West African country has seen four coups since achieving independence from France in 1960.

Bazoum, 60, has promised continuity with Issoufou's policies, while also vowing to clean up pervasive corruption.

"If I am lucky enough to win this election, you will have chosen someone who is ready from day one," he said in a campaign video.

Bazoum faces 29 other candidates, who will hope to force a second round by denying him an outright majority of the vote.

Other prominent hopefuls include two former heads of state, Mahamane Ousmane, 70, and Salou Djibo, 55.

In November, the Constitutional Court declared the main opposition candidate Hama Amadou "ineligible" to run in Sunday's election.

It is understood judges disqualified him on the grounds that in 2017 he was handed a 12-month term for alleged baby trafficking -- a charge he says was bogus.

Niger's electoral code bars citizens convicted of crimes with prison sentences of one year or more from running for president

A total of 7.4 million registered voters will also cast their ballots to choose who will represent them in the country's 171-seat National Assembly.

Whoever takes over as president will face a major challenge of protecting the country's security from further jihadist attacks.

Fighters loyal to al Qaeda and the 'Islamic State' (IS) armed group are active on Niger's western border with Mali and Burkina Faso.

Boko Haram, a Nigerian-based jihadist group with ties to IS also operates on Niger's southeastern border.

On Monday, seven troops and 11 suspected jihadists died in an ambush in the southwestern region of Tillaberi, the government said.

The economy, already fragile, has suffered devastating blows from the effects of the global coronavirus pandemic.

Around 42 percent of the population lived last year on under $1.90 (1.56 euros) per day, according to the World Bank, while nearly a fifth of its surging population of 23 million relied on food aid.

jf/mm (AFP, Reuters)

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