Niger’s constitutional court on Saturday, January 9, approved 15 candidates for a Presidential election next month, including key opponent Hama Amadou, who was imprisoned two months ago upon return from a year-long exile.
The constitutional court’s ruling is likely to increase pressure on Niger’s government to free Amadou, seen as one of three leading contenders in the Feb. 21 battle for leadership of the impoverished, uranium-producing West African country.
Niger authorities arrested Amadou, a former speaker of the National Assembly, in November in connection with a probe into a ring of elites accused of obtaining new-borns from “baby factories” in neighbouring Nigeria.
Amadou says the charges are politically motivated amid what President Mahamadou Issoufou’s opponents call a broader wave of repression ahead of the vote.
“We welcome this decision which proves that our county is making progress consolidating the rule of law, thereby reinforcing democracy,” said Malam Mahamane Sani, spokesman for Amadou’s Moden party.
He added that judicial authorities are due to rule on Amadou’s appeal for a provisional release on Monday, January 11.
Issoufou and former Prime Minister Seyni Oumarou, the candidate of the main opposition party, were also authorised to stand in the February vote.
Legislative elections are due the same day.
Issoufou, a key Western ally in the fight against Islamist extremism in the fragile Sahara region, is seen as the overall favourite to win next month.
In the last election in 2011, Amadou placed third in the first round and then threw his support behind Issoufou in the second to help him win the presidency, although rifts emerged between them after his inauguration. Oumarou placed second.
Some recent sources of tensions between the government and opposition appear to have been resolved, raising optimism that Niger will follow neighbours Burkina Faso and Nigeria which held peaceful elections last year.
Niger completed changes to its electoral register recommended by the International Organisation of the Francophonie (OIF), the body said on Thursday, January 7.