Niger’s President Mahamadou Issoufou took a solid lead Friday in the uranium-rich nation’s presidential election but will face an unprecedented run-off against jailed opposition leader Hama Amadou on March 20.
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The narrow win for Mahamadou Issoufou, who is known as the “Zaki” or “Lion” in Hausa, came after he had vowed to secure an outright victory in the first round. “I was set on winning the first round, but God has decided otherwise,” Issoufou said. “God’s choice is always best.”
His ruling coalition won a resounding majority in the National Assembly, taking more than 90 of the 171 seats, including 75 for his own PNDS party. Issoufou defended the results as “impressive and unprecedented” and said that a wave of pink the colour of his party had “covered every region of the country”.[mappress mapid=”10″]
“The people have made their decision calmly and in complete transparency,” added Issoufou, who campaigned on pledges to boost the economy and keep the country safe from jihadist attacks. The president’s rivals had pledged to unite behind whoever scored highest among them to challenge the 63-year-old’s bid for a second five-year term.
Amadou had campaigned from behind bars after being arrested in November over his alleged role in a baby-trafficking scandal. Two other prominent politicians, former premier Seini Oumarou and ex-president Mahamane Ousmane, won 12.11 percent and 6.25 percent respectively. Turnout was at 66.8 percent, CENI said, with about 7.5 million people eligible to vote.
Mahamadou Issoufou (Lion vs. Phoenix)
A total of 15 candidates ran for president in the impoverished country straddling the Sahara Desert, rocked over the past year by attacks by Boko Haram jihadists operating out of neighbouring Nigeria, as well as Islamist fighters in the north.
The African Union, which deployed 40 observers, said it was generally satisfied with the organisation of the vote, despite delays that saw polling stations open late into the night and voting rolled into a second day after ballot papers failed to be delivered on time in some areas.
The opposition, which had already slammed “grotesque and cooked up results”, has accused the president of corruption and of sowing discord among political parties to impose a dictatorship. Issoufou’s main contender Amadou, dubbed “the Phoenix”, has been in prison since November 14 last year.
The former prime minister and national assembly president fled the county in August 2014 to escape charges in the baby trafficking scandal, but was arrested after he returned last November. Though blessed with an abundance of uranium, coal and oil, majority-Muslim Niger is one of the poorest nations on the planet.
It has seen repeated coups and political crises since its first democratic elections in 1993. Security is a growing concern after attacks by jihadists from neighboring Nigeria, Mali and Libya.
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