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Niger Election to Return Country to Civilian Rule

A woman holds a ballot paper bearing portraits of the presidential candidates at a polling station, in Niamey, (file).
A woman holds a ballot paper bearing portraits of the presidential candidates at a polling station, in Niamey, (file).

Niger goes to the polls Saturday for the second round of a presidential election meant to return the country to civilian government following a military coup last February.

The presidential run-off election pits a long-time opposition leader against an ally of ousted president, Mamadou Tandja.

Opposition leader, Mahamadou Issoufou, led a first round of polling on Jan. 31st with 36 percent of votes. He is the favorite for Saturday's run-off thanks to the endorsement of four first-round candidates, including former Tandja Prime Minister, Hama Amadou, who came in third with nearly 20 percent of votes.

On the campaign trail, Issoufou said it was time for change in Niger.

He says he aims to revamp the economy with agricultural reforms and new infrastructure as well investments in the energy, education and health sectors. If elected, he says he plans to create 50,000 jobs per year for the scores of youth who have completed their education but cannot find employment. He says Niger is rich in natural resources and has the means to realize these goals.

Issoufou faces former prime minister and candidate for the ex-president's party, Seini Oumarou, who came in second in the initial poll with 23 percent of votes.

Oumarou has pledged to continue the work Mr. Tandja began during his ten years in power.

Oumarou party spokesman, Issoufou Tamboura, says everyone knows our candidate's slogan, "Let's consolidate our gains. Let's continue and make them a reality." He says our countrymen have seen what our party has done over the last decade. He says no one can deny what Mr. Tandja accomplished in terms of building the nation and improving living conditions.

If elected, Oumarou has also pledged to release the ex-president who is currently in prison charged with corruption during his 10-year rule.

It has been more than a year since soldiers stormed the presidential palace and arrested Mr. Tandja, who had grown increasingly unpopular when he forced through constitutional changes to expand his powers and extend his mandate.

A new constitution, passed by referendum in October, gives soldiers until April 6th to return the country to civilian hands. However, it remains to be seen whether this transition will bring long-term political stability to Niger, which has had four military coups since 1974.

Provisional results for Saturday's poll are expected in as little as three days.