Tag Archives: Niger

Niger – Newly elected President Mahamadou Issoufou faces the challenge of healing political divisions

Within hours of being confirmed the winner of the March 20 presidential run-off, incumbent President Mahamadou Issofou invited the opposition to join a government of national unity. According to preliminary results released by the election commission (CENI), Issoufou won reelection with 92.5 percent of the vote against former chairman of the National Assembly Hama Amadou who garnered 7.5 percent. Voter turn-out was 59.8 percent according to the CENI – a figure challenged by the opposition that claims only 11 percent of voters turned out on election day.

Issoufou’s overwhelming reelection was not exactly a surprise, after the opposition coalition COPA 2016 (Coalition for Alternation) backing challenger Hama Amadou called on its supporters to boycott the run-off. Issoufou had won 48.4 percent of the vote and Hama 17.8 percent in the February 21 first-round election [se previous blogpost analyzing election results here]. COPA 2016 had alleged an unlevel playing field and fraud in that election. However, once a run-off was announced, the 23 parties making up COPA 2016 stated they would participate and back their candidate, Hama Amadou.

The days following the declaration of results from the first round were followed by intense maneuverings from both camps, trying to secure the support of unsuccessful candidates who didn’t make it to the run-off. Issoufou succeeded in getting the endorsement of Ibrahim Yacouba, his former deputy chief of staff who had broken ranks with the president’s PNDS party last year, as well as the support of a number of other first round candidates – totaling about a dozen percent of votes. In contrast, COPA 2016 was unsuccessful in rallying additional pledges behind its candidate, Hama Amadou.

Hama Amadou did not withdraw from the race, but COPA 2016 called for voters to stay home and declared that the opposition would not recognize the results, complaining about unfair treatment of its candidate. Hama spent election day in a hospital in Paris, whereto he was taken days before the poll for treatment for an unspecified chronic illness. Hama left for hospital from his prison cell in Filingué where he has been awaiting trial in a case of alleged baby trafficking since November 2015; he and a number of other high-ranking Nigeriens stand accused of falsely claiming parenthood of children born to Nigerian women. Hama maintains the case is politically motivated and calls himself a political prisoner.

This election has been tense and the campaigns virulent. President Issoufou and opposition leaders Hama Amadou, Mahamane Ousmane, Seyni Oumarou and Amadou Boubacar Cissé (the four who head COPA 2016) have all been active in politics since the early 1990s, when Niger first transitioned to democracy. Their paths have crossed in various ways, and they have been political allies and opponents at different points in time. Most recently, Hama Amadou supported Issoufou in the 2011 presidential run-off against Seyni Oumarou, but fell out with Issoufou in 2014 [see earlier blogpost here].

In the past, the military has intervened three times – in 1996, 1999 and 2010 – at times of political crisis. In December 2015, the government of President Issoufou announced it had thwarted an attempted putsch. Some opposition leaders were arrested for their possible involvement and others after publicly questioning the veracity of the government’s claim that a coup had been in the works.

The opposition has turned down Issoufou’s offer of joining the government and instead decided to boycott the legislature. When the newly elected National Assembly was seated on March 24th, none of the 53 representatives of member parties of COPA 2016 took up their seats in the 171-member legislative body.

To heal the deep political divisions, there is clearly a need for if not a government of national unity, at least some initiative at dialogue, as also called for by CENI president Boubé Ibrahim upon announcing the run-off results. Moving forward, Niger would similarly benefit from greater renewal of political leadership within its main parties to bring in new blood and leaders free from a long history of mutual resentments.

Niger – Analysis of first-round results as President Issoufou prepares to face jailed opponent in run-off

A run-off was not what President Mahamadou Issoufou had hoped for. And Hama Amadou is probably the least favorite second round challenger for Issoufou whose slogan was “Un coup K.O.”, as he aimed to knock out his opponents in the first round of the February 21 presidential poll.

The incumbent president did come in first with 48.4 percent of the vote, against the runner-up, former chairman of the National Assembly Hama Amadou, who garnered 17.8 percent. Issoufou will now have to face an opponent in the second round who has declared himself a “political prisoner:” Hama alleges that the case brought against him and a number of other high-ranking Nigeriens for falsely claiming parenthood of babies born to women in Nigeria is politically motivated.

The election was a nail-biter, with Issoufou’s score at times hovering just around 50 percent, as the election commission (CENI) published results on its website little by little when they became available. The map of Niger gradually became pink – the color of Issoufou’s Party for Democracy and Socialism (PNDS) – except for the region of Tillabery and Niamey, the capital, where blue – the color of Hama’s Lumana party – dominated. The CENI website breaks down the regions into departments, where more colors appear: green around Zinder, for former President Mahamane Ousmane who came in fourth, and lighter rose in the department of Banibangou for former prime minister Seini Oumarou who came in third. The department of Dogondoutchi is yellow, for Issoufou’s former deputy chief of staff Ibrahim Yacouba who parted ways with the PNDS last year and created his own party, the Patriotic Movement of Niger (MPN).

Results from the legislative polls that took place at the same time as the presidential election confirm the relative weight of the leading candidates and their respective parties. The number of deputies in the National Assembly was increased in October 2014 from 113 to 171; Niger uses a proportional election system where percentage of votes closely correlates with percentage of seats won. According to the CENI’s provisional results, the seat distribution is as follows:

  • PNDS – 75 seats (44.1 percent of the vote, up from 33.0 percent in 2011)
  • Lumana – 25 seats (14.7 percent of the vote, down from 19.7)
  • MNSD – 20 seats (11.8 percent of the vote, down from 20.6)
  • MPR – 12 seats (7.1 percent of the vote – the MPR is a splinter party from the MNSD, created in 2015) [the MPR did not present a candidate and supported Issoufou]
  • MNRD/PSDN alliance – 6 seats (3.5 percent of the vote, up from 0) [the MNRD and the PSDN are two small parties that didn’t win any seats in 2011; the MNRD nominated Mahamane Ousmane as its presidential candidate, after Ousmane lost control of his former party, the CDS, last year]
  • MPN – 5 seats (2.9 percent of the vote, not bad for a newly created party)
  • 22 seats more go to 7 smaller parties, leaving 6 seats to be allocated as of the evening of March 1st, according to the CENI’s website.

An analysis of the vote distribution compared to 2011 indicates that the PNDS has done well, increasing its vote share by 11 percentage points and achieving 44 percent of seats, compared to 33 percent of seats in 2011. Issoufou’s personal score, though short of securing him an outright win in the first round, is also up by more than 12 percentage points compared to 2011 (when he got 36.2 percent of the vote in the first round). Issoufou’s ruling coalition, the Movement for the Renaissance of Niger (MNR), has secured more than a comfortable legislative majority with at least 105 seats out of 171, a majority which under Niger’s semi-presidential constitution will enable Issoufou and his allies to appoint the next prime minister and government.

The big loser is the MNSD whose candidate, Seini Oumarou, came in second in 2011 with 23.2 percent in 2011, in contrast to only 12.1 percent of the vote this year. The MNSD also lost votes and legislative seats to the break-away MPR party created following a leadership struggle within the MNSD, after some leading members joined Issoufou’s government in 2013 [see previous post on shifting political alliances in Niger here].

Though Hama Amadou overtakes Seini Oumarou to run against Issoufou in this year’s second round, his personal score is actually down compared to 2011, from 19.8 percent to 17.8 percent of the vote. Similarly, his party, Lumana, lost 5 percentage point of the popular vote in the legislative polls, compared to 2011.

The period leading up to the polls was tense, but election day was peaceful. Despite significant logistical challenges, voter turn-out was an impressive 66.8 percent according to the CENI, well above the 48.8 percent average voter turn-out for past elections. Due to severe delays in the opening of polling stations in many areas, voting had to go into a second day. The leading opposition parties accused the CENI and the government of fraud and threatened to reject the results. However, when a second round was confirmed, the 23 parties that make up the opposition alliance COPA 2016 (the Coalition for Alternation) announced that they would participate and stand by their pre-election agreement to back the opposition candidate who made it to the second round – in this case Hama Amadou. The major parties that form the core of COPA 2016 are Lumana, MNSD, Ousmane’s new party the MNRD and Boubacar Cisse’s UDR (Cisse came in 9th in the presidential election).

As Niger’s 7.5 million voters head to the run-off scheduled for March 20th, there will be intense maneuverings by the two contenders to secure the support of unsuccessful candidates. Ibrahim Yacouba who came in fifth (with 4.4 percent of the vote) is thus courted by both sides. Kassoum Moctar who came in 6th (with 2.9 percent) has already pledged allegiance to Issoufou. This promises to be a hotly contested election that is likely to again mobilize Nigerien voters in unprecedented numbers.

Niger – Shifting alliances in the legislature

President Mahamadou Issoufou’s legislative majority has eroded, paradoxically following a cabinet reshuffle aimed at strengthening the government and internal stability in the face of regional security threats.

How did this happen? When Issoufou of the Niger Party for Democracy and Socialism (PNDS) was elected president in 2011, he won the backing of a solid 83-seat majority in concurrent polls for the 113-seat National Assembly. In the five-party ruling coalition, the PNDS controlled 37 seats and its largest ally, the Nigerien Democratic Movement (MODEN Lumana), 25 seats. Three smaller parties made up the remainder. The president of Lumana, Hama Amadou, was elected speaker of the National Assembly.

In August, 2013, Issoufou reshuffled his cabinet to form a government of ‘national unity’ with the participation of major figures from the largest opposition party, the National Movement for the Development Society (MNSD). The president’s declared intent  was to strengthen internal political stability and to bolster regional security, following terrorist attacks in the northern part of Niger in May.

Claiming he had not been properly consulted, Hama Amadou withdrew his party from the government and joined the MNSD and the Democratic Social Convention (CDS) in the opposition, to form a new alliance (the Alliance for Reconciliation, Democracy and the Republic – ARDR). The MNSD leadership has disavowed its members who have joined the government, without excluding them from the party, however. Together, Lumana, the MNSD and the CDS along with a small fourth party muster 55 seats, two seats short of a majority; and Issoufou is now in the uncomfortable position where the number two position in the hierarchy of the state – the presidency of the National Assembly – is occupied by a leader of the opposition. 

To end the uncertainty caused by the changing political alliances, Issoufou could ask his government to initiate a vote of confidence in the National Assembly, to clarify the current legislative backing of the government. The wild cards are the support from the remaining, smaller parties of the ruling coalition and the extent to which MNSD deputies would vote en bloc – or whether some have shifted alliance to the government.

Should the confidence vote fail or, conversely, should the opposition initiate and win a vote of no-confidence in the government, the prime minister and his cabinet would have to step down. Niger could then be headed towards a period of cohabitation – a situation where executive power is shared between a president and a prime minister from opposing political parties. Under Niger’s semi-presidential system (modeled after the 1958 French constitution), the prime minister is accountable to the legislature. If President Issoufou loses the backing of the National Assembly, he could be forced to appoint a new prime minister who has the support of the new majority. Alternatively, Issoufou could choose to dissolve the legislature and call for fresh elections, but with the risk of losing the majority again.

Niger experienced a turbulent cohabitation period in 1995-96 – which paved the way for the January 1996 coup d’état by General Baré. Many of the political leaders from that time are the same facing off today. Hopefully the lessons learned from that experience still stick. The November plenary debates during the legislative budget session will be a telling test of the government’s continued support in the National Assembly.