NIAMEY, March 14, 2011 (AFP) – Veteran opposition leader Mahamadou Issoufou won elections intended to return Niger to civilian rule after a military coup, taking 57.95 percent of the vote, the election commission announced Monday. Issoufou, 59, defeated former prime minister Seini Oumarou, 60, who took 42.05 percent of the votes cast in a runoff election on Saturday, electoral commission chief Gousmane Abdourahamane said. Voter turnout was 48.17 percent, down from 51.56 percent in the first round on January 31, he said. Oumarou is a former ally of president Mamadou Tandja, who was toppled in a military coup in February 2010 after he attempted to extend his rule beyond the constitutional limits. Issoufou, a longtime opponent of Tandja’s rule, was the favourite after taking the lead in the first round vote on January 31.
The Social Democratic Party leader strengthened his candidacy by forging alliances, especially with Hama Amadou, another former premier under Tandja who garnered 19 percent in the first round vote. Niger’s junta vowed to usher in civilian government after it took power last year to end a crisis triggered by Tandja’s attempts to extend his mandate. No junta member ran in the election. “If we can hold a successful election then together we will have accomplished bringing about a democracy that can serve as an example to Africa,” junta leader General Salou Djibo said as he cast his ballot on Saturday. Djibo, among the first to cast his ballot, urged candidates to respect the outcome of the vote and “that the loser accepts his defeat.” The junta leader is scheduled to hand over to Issoufou on April 6. The civilian and military authorities have signed a “republican pact” by which they have agreed to respect the country’s new constitution, adopted at the end of last year.
During the election campaign, both candidates promised to dissolve parliament and organise legislative elections for a more representative assembly in the vast, landlocked country on the edge of the Sahara desert. And they vowed to tackle the poverty that afflicts some 60 percent of the people in the impoverished nation, find protection against cyclical food crises, and assure an equitable distribution of the wealth from uranium. Since independence from France in 1960, Niger has been wracked by coups and faced a Tuareg rebellion in the north of the country. And in recent years it has become one of the bases for Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), which has been responsible for kidnappings and killings of Westerners in the region.
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