A woman holds a ballot paper bearing portraits of the presidential candidates at a polling station, in Niamey, January 31, 2011.
A woman holds a ballot paper bearing portraits of the presidential candidates at a polling station, in Niamey, January 31, 2011.

Provisional results from Niger's presidential election show there will be a second-round run-off between the main opposition candidate and an ally of the president who was deposed in last February's military coup.

Niger went to the polls Monday to choose a new leader, nearly one year after soldiers ousted president Mamadou Tandja, who had grown increasingly unpopular after changing the constitution to expand his powers and extend his mandate.

According to provisional results announced Friday afternoon, veteran anti-Tandja opposition leader, Mahamadou Issoufou, led the first round with 36 percent of votes, followed by the former prime minister and candidate for the ex-president's party, Seini Oumarou, who won 23 percent of votes.

Election officials say Issoufou and Oumarou are now heading to a run-off election March 12.

Five of the ten first-round presidential candidates, including third-place winner Hama Amadou, have pledged to back Oumarou, as part of a coalition created last week. Some say the move could win him the presidency.

However, head of political science at the University of Niamey, Mahaman Tidjani Alou, says it remains to be seen whether the alliance will hold and whether the leaders of those political parties can get their supporters to vote for Oumarou. He says more political maneuvering is always a possibility.

Issoufou's opposition party dominated local and regional elections held on Jan. 11 and won the most legislative seats in Monday's nationwide parliamentary polls, followed by Oumarou's party.
Ex-president Tandja is currently in prison, charged with corruption during his 10-year rule.

Though the country's current military leaders appear to be living up to their promise to restore democracy, it remains to be seen whether this transition back to civilian government will bring long-term political stability to Niger, which has had four military coups since 1974.

Alou says it is very important that the second round election is organized in the best possible conditions to avoid any challenge of the results. He says after that, it is important that the country's new leaders respect the constitution and not forget that they are to govern in the best interests of the country for the benefit of all.

Despite minor logistical problems and irregularities, domestic and international election observers said Monday's presidential and legislative polls were calm and transparent.

The constitutional court has two weeks to validate provisional results.