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.