The electoral commission of Niger has announced that the ruling party candidate and former minister Mohamed Bazoum has won the first round of the country’s presidential vote.
The electoral commission announced on Saturday. This puts 60-year-old Bazoum in a position to face former president Mahamane Ousmane in February’s presidential election.
It is worthy to note that Hama Amadou, who finished runner-up in the last election, was barred from running because of a criminal conviction, leaving the opposition without a prominent figurehead until last week, when his party called on its supporters to turn out for Mahamane Ousmane, who was President from 1993 to 1996.
The Independent National Electoral Commission (CENI) said Bazoum, an associate of outgoing President Mahamadou Issoufou, received 39.33 percent of the votes at last weekend’s election, dropping low the required 50% to win outright in the first round. The commission noted that Ousmane received 17% of the vote.
Issoufou will be stepping down after two terms of five-year. This will lead to Niger’s first power transfer between two democratically elected presidents.
The second round is expected to be held on Feb. 21 after the first round results have been validated by the constitutional court, which will hear any appeals.
Former prime ministers Seini Oumarou and Albade Abouba respectively came third and fourth with 8.95 percent and 7.07 percent of the ballots.
CENI revealed that the turnout reached 69.67 percent or 5.2 million of the 7.4 million registered voters.
Bazoum, who has served in both interior and foreign minister’s capacity, based his campaign promises on improving security and education and wishes to seal victory in the first round. He also promised to clean up pervasive corruption.
The ruling Nigerien Party for Democracy and Socialism (PNDS) is also leading in the legislative vote with 80 of the 165 seats and five diaspora seats. The main opposition MODEN/FA-Lumina was second, with 19 seats remaining to be decided.
Since Niger gaining independence 60 years ago, it has been unstable; the UN’s Human Development Index has ranked it the world’s poorest country.
Issoufou, the outgoing President, in a New Year radio message, described the election as “a new, successful page in our country’s democratic history.”
The former French colony is also hoping to see a first peaceful handover between elected presidents.
However, insecurity overshadowed campaigning, with Niger battered by jihadists on its southwestern border with Mali and the southeastern frontier with Nigeria.
The incoming President will inherit several challenges, including rising violence from Islamist militants linked to al Qaeda and Islamic State. Attacks near the western border with Mali and Burkina Faso and the southeastern border with Nigeria killed hundreds of people last year.