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Niger ‘Lion’ leader hopes for poll win as opposition cry foul

Monday, Feb 22, 2016,11:00 IST By Metrovaartha A A A

Niamey | Counting has begun in Niger’s presidential poll in an election that has seen incumbent Mahamadou Issoufou promise a first-round knockout blow to his opponents, who are already crying foul after a tense campaign. A vast nation endowed with an abundance of uranium, gold, coal and oil but among the poorest on the planet, Niger is electing a head of state, as well as a new parliament, with Issoufou hoping for a second five-year term. Everything has gone well in an atmosphere of calm and serenity.

There are some shortcomings but Ceni (the electoral commission) is taking measures to allow voters to exercise their right to vote, commission president Ibrahim Boube said yesterday, adding that voting in some areas had been pushed back to today after electoral material did not arrive in time.

A total of 7.5 million people were eligible to vote at 25,000 polling stations across the country on the edge of the Sahara desert, where security is a growing concern after attacks by jihadists from neighbouring Nigeria, Mali and Libya. The election results are expected within five days. Security was tight with forces on patrol across the country, including the capital Niamey, where voting got off to a delayed start in many parts of the city due to the late delivery of ballot papers and other materials.

Interior Minister Hassoumi Massaoudou said earlier yesterday that the vote was going smoothly especially in Diffa, where voting material arrived on time, referring to a border region that has been hit by frequent Boko Haram Islamist violence, and where some 200,000 displaced people were eligible to vote. After voting in Niamey, Issoufou said there will be only one winner, and that will be Niger, saying he hoped the election would reinforce the country’s democratic structures.

The 63-year-old said he was absolutely confident of victory. Issoufou said he had met his pledges on boosting growth and infrastructure, while shoring up security in the face of jihadist attacks. Defence remains a top budget priority in Niger, with the remote north threatened by jihadists operating out of Mali and Libya while the southeast tries to fend off attacks by Nigeria-based Boko Haram.

In December, the government said it had foiled an attempted military coup. Known as the Zaki or Lion in Hausa, the majority language in Niger, the former mathematician and mining engineer faces 14 competitors, including an ex-president. Should he fail to win a first-round victory, his rivals, who have accused him of planning to rig the result, have agreed to unite behind whoever scores highest among them for the second round.

Niger’s opposition denounced the election late yesterday as grossly unfair, saying there had been vote rigging and a problem with duplicate voter cards.