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Last Updated: Sunday, 14 November, 2004, 11:58 GMT
Q&A: Niger votes
Mamadou Tandja, Niger's president since 1999
Mamadou Tandja has been Niger's president since 1999

The people of Niger go to the polls on Tuesday in the first round of presidential elections, postponed from 13 November to avoid a clash with the Muslim festival of Eid.

Six candidates are in the running, with the incumbent and a former prime minister topping the list.

Q: Who are the favourites?

Mamadou Tandja has been Niger's president since 1999. Born in 1938, the retired lieutenant-colonel has previously served two stints as interior minister and spent time as an ambassador.

Mr Tandja was also involved in the coup which overthrew Niger's first elected President, Diori Hamani, in 1974.

After mounting unsuccessful bids for the presidency in 1993 and 1996, he triumphed in 1999.

He enjoys the backing of the ruling National Movement for the Society of Development, and is seeking a second and final term.

Mr Tandja's main challenger is Mahamadou Issoufou, chairman of the Niger Party for Democracy and Socialism, and official leader of the opposition.

Born in 1952 and an engineer by training, Mr Issoufou was defeated by Mr Tandja in the 1999 presidential election.

However, he is running on the same campaign platform this time round, pledging to re-energise the economy and break the cycle of poverty.

Who else is standing?

Mahamane Ousmane is the parliamentary speaker and leads the Democratic and Social Convention.

He was elected president in Niger's first democratic multi-party elections in 1993, but was ousted in 1996 in a coup led by Ibrahim Bare Mainassara.

Niger's political landscape is so tight that a candidate cannot win on his own by an overwhelming margin
L'Enqueteur

The 66-year-old Moumouni Adamou Djermakoye is a serving government minister, with responsibility for the African integration portfolio.

In what will be his third bid for the presidency, he is running under the banner of the opposition Niger Alliance for Democracy and Social Progress, which he leads.

Like fellow contender Mr Issoufou, Hamid Algabid has experience of serving as prime minister. He is currently the African Union's special envoy to Sudan.

Aged 63, he is standing on behalf of the Rally for Democracy and Progress.

Rounding off the list of candidates is Ahmadou Cheiffou, who was Niger's transitional prime minister between 1991 and 1993.

Once a member of the Democratic and Social Convention, he left to form his own party, the Rally for Social Democracy, at the beginning of 2004. He has also won the backing of another party, the Niger Party for Development.

What is the president's role?

Niger's president is elected for a five-year period and can serve a maximum two terms.

The president's duties include appointing the country's prime minister, calling for - and chairing - cabinet meetings, and serving as commander-in-chief of the armed forces.

Under Niger's constitution, the president represents national unity. Therefore he or she cannot play a leading role in any political party or other national association while in office.

How does the election work?

A candidate can win outright in the first round by gaining an absolute majority. If no candidate achieves this, the two frontrunners fight it out in a second and final ballot.

Campaigning for the first round started on 23 October and ends two days before polling day. Candidates can use radio stations, public television and official newspapers to spread their messages.

The run-off, if needed, is scheduled for 4 December, with campaigning starting on 24 November. Parliamentary elections are to be held the same day.

Who can vote?

All Niger citizens aged 18 and over can vote, with the exception of bankrupts, prisoners or people who have been convicted by a court.

Incumbent President Tandja has called on voters to turn out in large numbers to exercise their democratic rights.

What happened last time?

The last set of presidential elections was held in November 1999, seven months after the assassination of former President Ibrahim Bare Mainassara.

Then as now, Mr Tandja and Mr Issoufou were the two leading contenders. Both used their campaigns to call for national unity, and promised to launch economic reforms to fight poverty.

In a run-off, Mr Tandja earned a comfortable victory with almost 60% of the votes. Observers described both rounds of the election as relatively free and fair.

What are the issues this time?

Observers say Niger has built a more democratic political system since Mr Mainassara's assassination five years ago.

Human rights bodies and other NGOs are said to operate openly and freely, often publishing reports that are highly critical of the government.

An Amnesty International report in 2002 notes no major human rights violations. But it does say some journalists have been harassed, while students critical of the authorities have been detained.

Of greater concern are recent reports of an increase in violence in the north of the country. This has fuelled fears that Tuareg tribesmen may try to relaunch the rebellion that ran from 1991 to 1995.

The privately-owned weekly newspaper Le Republicain has said it believes at least one Tuareg group, the FLAA, has resumed its insurgency in collaboration with army deserters loyal to the late Mr Mainassara.

The Tuaregs are said to be seeking self-administration in their own regions, and have demanded greater respect for their identity.

What about the media?

Commentators in Niger's press have been keen to speculate on whether any of the candidates will gain enough votes to avoid a second round.

The French-language L'Enqueteur has said a run-off is "inevitable".

"Niger's political landscape is so tight that a candidate cannot win on his own by an overwhelming margin", the paper suggests.

But Le Republicain notes Mr Tandja is intent on winning the elections outright and says he has mapped out a strategy to achieve this.

Meanwhile, one radio station, Tenere FM, has urged all six candidates to show "a sense of decency" during the campaign.

BBC Monitoring, based in Caversham in southern England, selects and translates information from radio, television, press, news agencies and the internet from 150 countries in more than 70 languages.




SEE ALSO:
Country profile: Niger
09 Nov 04 |  Country profiles
Testimony: Former Niger slave
03 Nov 04 |  Africa
Troops put down Niger mutiny
09 Aug 02 |  Africa
Military rule ends in Niger
22 Dec 99 |  Africa
New president for Niger
27 Nov 99 |  Africa



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