Niger votes within the president’s runoff election to mark first democratic transition by Reuters

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© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: Niger Mohamed Bazoum pictured on September 14, 2013.

From Boureima Balima

NIAMEY (Reuters) – Niger is voting on Sunday in the second round of a presidential election that is expected to mark the first democratic change of power since the West African nation gained independence from France in 1960.

The ruling party’s candidate, Mohamed Bazoum, is seen by many as a favorite after taking the lead in the first round on December 27 with 39.3% of the vote. He faces former President Mahamane Ousmane, who scored 17%.

Bazoum, a 61-year-old politician who held several top positions in the governments of outgoing President Mahamadou Issoufou, including the Foreign and Interior Ministries, is supported by the candidates who finished third and fourth in the first round.

Bazoum has vowed to continue the policies of Issoufou, with security at the heart of the fight against insurgency and guidelines to transform the economy.

Ousmane, 71, was Niger’s first democratically elected president and was ousted by a military coup in 1996. He was supported by around a dozen smaller parties and first-round candidates. He has promised to bring about change and fight corruption.

The Sahel nation with around 24 million inhabitants is one of the poorest in the world and is struggling with recurring periods of drought and devastating floods. The coronavirus pandemic has weighed on the economy, while weak prices for the main export, uranium, weighed on revenues.

The International Monetary Fund expects the Nigerian economy to recover to pre-pandemic levels, with growth of over 6% this year, after falling 1.2% in 2020.

“Continuity is better,” said Boukari Hassane, a 42-year-old civil servant, who added that he would like Bazoum to complete the development programs launched under Issoufou.

Niamey-based political analyst Elhadj Idi Abou said the outcome of the vote was undecided and that turnout is likely to be high given the turnout of nearly 70% in the first round.

The choice is between continuity with Bazoum or switching with Ousmane, he added.

“For me there is no favorite because this ballot is the most open and the result does not depend on alliances but on the citizens. Both candidates have the same chances,” said Abou.

Niger faces two of the deadliest insurrections in Africa – one near the western border with Mali and Burkina Faso, where militants linked to al-Qaeda and the Islamic State have carried out a series of attacks. 100 people were killed in an attack on two villages near the border with Mali in early January.

On the southeastern border with Nigeria, Boko Haram attacks have killed hundreds and displaced thousands.

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