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Niger's Incumbent President Faces Challenge in Upcoming Runoff Election


Niger President Mamadou Tandja is expected to win a second round runoff Saturday, but he is facing a surging challenge from opposition leader Mahamadou Issoufou.

Tens of thousands of opposition supporters have been gathering at rallies for Mr. Issoufou, like one in Niamey where the campaign's anti-corruption theme song says "Let's kick out those who steal from the people."

The leader of the Party for Democracy and Socialism is targeting his message at youths, saying, if they are craving a better future, they must vote for him.

Niger ranks second to last, ahead of just Sierra Leone, in the United Nations' Human Development Index of 177 countries. One child in every four dies before the age of five.

Mr. Issoufou was a distant second in November's first-round ballot, getting just a quarter of the vote. However, his rallies have become bigger and bigger. Incumbent Mamadou Tandja polled more than 40 percent in the first round. He is still expected to get the overall victory, after securing the support of several first-round losing candidates.

President Tandja, a former army colonel, has campaigned on a platform of stability and promises of better living conditions in rural areas. He defeated Mr. Issoufou in a second round runoff in 1999, shortly after Niger's military leader had been assassinated.

Saturday, there will also be a legislative poll, with 113 seats up for grabs - up from 81 in the current parliament.

One candidate who has been getting large crowds is the only female lawmaker, Moumouni Aissata, from Mr. Tandja's ruling National Movement for the Development of Society. She is promising to increase opportunities for women in the largely Muslim society.

All parties have been trying to present more female candidates, but few are expected to win.

About five million citizens will be eligible to vote in what all sides expect to be a free and fair vote.

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