Niger opposition leader claims election win despite official results

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A giant poster for Mahamane Ousmane, who is contesting former interior minister Mohamed Bazoum in Sunday’s runoff. — AFP pic
Nevin Al Sukari - Sana'a - A giant poster for Mahamane Ousmane, who is contesting former interior minister Mohamed Bazoum in Sunday’s runoff. — AFP pic

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NIAMEY, Feb 24 — Opposition leader Mahamane Ousmane today claimed he narrowly won Niger’s presidential elections, as fresh violence erupted a day after official results gave victory to his rival by a wide margin.

“The compilation of results... which we have in our possession through our representatives in the various polling stations give us victory with 50.3 per cent of the vote,” Ousmane said, according to a video of a speech he made in the southeastern town of Zinder that was authenticated by his party.

According to provisional results announced by the Independent National Electoral Commission (CENI), former interior minister Mohamed Bazoum picked up 55.75 per cent of the vote in Sunday’s runoff and Ousmane 44.25 per cent.

Police clashed with Ousmane supporters in the capital Niamey after CENI’s announcement yesterday, AFP reporters said.

Sources in the city said at least one police station and shops owned by people perceived as being close to the government had been pillaged.

In Dosso, 100 kilometres (60 miles) south of Niamey, the offices of a pro-government party were damaged by fire, local residents said.

Further violence erupted this morning in Niamey’s central market area.

Protestors threw stones and police responded with tear gas, and at least one petrol station was attacked, AFP reporters saw.

The elections have been presented as the first democratic transition in the history of the coup-prone Sahel state.

President Mahamadou Issoufou is voluntarily stepping down after two five-year terms — a rarity in Africa, where presidents have frequently stayed in power through constitutional changes that reset term limits to zero.

‘Fraud’

“You have expressed your clear willingness to break with poor government, you have expressed your desire for change, for an emerging Niger,” Ousmane said in his speech.

“This desire for change has been expressed by your voting massively in my favour,” he said.

He insisted “fraud” had been committed “pretty much everywere in all of Niger’s regions”.

In the constituency of Timia in the Agadez region, “a turnout of 103 per cent was recorded, with a score of 99 per cent in favour of the ruling party’s candidate,” he claimed.

“In these areas, our delegates were forced at gunpoint to sign certifications (of the vote) without any possibility of adding remarks,” he said.

Bazoum, 60, co-founder with Issoufou of the ruling PNDS party, picked up just over 39 per cent of the vote in the first round on December 27.

Ousmane, 71, won just under 17 per cent in the first round but gained pledges of support from a coalition of 18 opposition parties in the days before the runoff.

In 1993, Ousmane became Niger’s first democratically-elected president, only to be toppled in a coup three years later.

The opposition’s most charismatic candidate, Hama Amadou, was banned from running in the latest elections because of a conviction for baby trafficking — a charge he slammed as politically motivated.

Bazoum gesture

Bazoum, speaking at his party’s headquarters yesterday, said he would be “the president of all Nigeriens” and reached out to Ousmane.

“Knowing his wisdom, I would like to count on him,” Bazoum said.

“If the opposition has doubts (about the election), it should be able to have the evidence” to put to the Constitutional Court, which certifies the results, he said.

Niger is the world’s poorest nation according to the UN’s development rankings for 189 countries.

It is also struggling with jihadist insurgencies that have spilled over from Mali in the west and Nigeria in the southeast. Hundreds of lives have been lost and an estimated 460,000 people have fled their homes. — AFP

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