The second round of Niger’s presidential elections are due to take place on November 24. They will be contested by the two highest placed candidates in the first round, (which took place on October 17), retired Colonel Mamadou Tandja, leader of the former ruling National Movement for Society in Development (MNSD), who won 31.3 percent of the votes in the first round, and Mahamadou Issoufi, of the Party for Democracy and Socialism (PNDS).
Issoufi is a former prime minister who is widely thought to be is backed by the country’s ruling military junta, even though they are officially remaining out of the democratic process.
The elections are a major test of political stability in the country, which has been ruled by the military since April 9, when president Ibrahim Bare Mainassara was assassinated by members of his presidential guard. The junta, led by Daoude Malam Wanke, refused to investigate the killing, insisting that Mainassara’s death had been an ‘unfortunate accident’.
Among the major surprises in the first round of election last month was that Mahamoude Ousmane, who became the country’s first president in 1983, was among the losers. He had been expected to go through to the second round along with Tandja.
He and another first-round leader, Hamid Algabid, representing the Rally for Democracy and Progress, to which Mainassara belonged, are expected to play a major role in the final outcome of the elections, depending on which of the surviving candidates they choose to back.
Both the candidates are seasoned Nigerien politicians, and general disillusion with the prospects for any meaningful change in the impoverished country’s condition was reflected in a low turn-out in the first round of voting. Only some 1.99 million of the 4.56 million voters ( 43.66 percent ( turned out to vote. Niger has a total population of 8.5 million people.
The majority of Niger’s workforce is employed in the public sector, which is experiencing its worst economic depression ever, even though it is accustomed to economic hardship. Most government workers have not been paid for nearly a year, and have intermittently striked in recent months.
Niger was seriously damaged by the collapse of the price of uranium in the 1980s, exports of which has carried it to a relative boom in the 1970s. The country is now dependent on foreign aid, and the people have suffered additionally because international agencies suspended all aid in April until civilian rule was restored. How meaningful the transfer of power will be remains to be seen.
Muslimedia: November 16-30, 1999