Niger opposition candidate, Hama Amadou, jailed since November in a controversial case of child trafficking, will participate in the second round of the presidential election on March 20, his lawyers confirmed to AFP.
The opposition coalition (COPA), highly critical of the first round of presidential elections, said on Tuesday that it had decided to “suspend participation in the electoral process” before the second round scheduled for March 20.
“COPA has just said it is suspending its participation in the process, but Hama is leaving them for the election,” said Mr. Mossi Boubacar, reached by telephone by AFP.
“Hama says he will not withdraw,” stressed the lawyer in reaction to the President of the Independent National Electoral Commission of Niger (INEC), who said on Thursday that he is “determined” to organize the second ballot even without the opposition.
“We are determined to organize the elections on March 20 … so it is not the eventual withdrawal (Hama Amadou, the opposition candidate, currently imprisoned) that will stop us” and “we have constitutional deadlines,” said the president of the CENI, Boubé Ibrahim, during a press conference in Niamey.
“We are working to avoid an institutional vacuum with unpredictable consequences,” he said. According to Ibrahim, “nothing will disturb” the holding of the second round, which “will indeed take place as scheduled.”
“From his cell, which campaign can Hama do? This is a challenger who is prevented from entering the ring. Meanwhile, Issoufou is all around the country by air and organising meetings escorted by a police force,” his lawyer lamented, denouncing “a breach of equality, fairness and opportunity” for his client.
The opponent, Hama Amadou, jailed since November in a controversial case of child trafficking, had to face incumbent President Mahamadou Issoufou, 64 years old, during the second round.
He had led the campaign in the first round from his cell, unable to speak publicly to his supporters. According to an alliance signed before the first round, COPA 2016, which includes the main opponents, had united around Hama Amadou, who got 17.73% of the vote in the first round against 48.43% for President Mahamadou Issoufou, who came close to winning.
By projections and relying on accurate reports of scores of the 1st round, Mr. Issoufou widely prevailed in the 2nd round.
COPA, which was highly critical of the 1st round, accused the regime of “fraud” and justified their boycott with the absence of “official proclamation” of the results of the 1st round of February 21, the non-compliance of the duration of the election campaign and “unfair treatment between the two candidates.”
“They (opponents) withdrew because they cannot win. It’s sad. Actually, it does not surprise us. The main significant candidates rallied behind Mr. Issoufou,” Interior Minister Hassoumi Massaoudou who is close to President Issoufou said on Tuesday.
For Mouassa Tchangari, Nigerien civil society figure and notorious opponent to Issoufou, “a crisis is building” in Niger. “This is not a situation that we can rejoice, even if we can understand that the opposition is based more or less to do so,” he told AFP on Wednesday.
More than 7.5 million voters had gone to the polls in the first round of elections in the country of 18 million people, among the poorest in the world and living under the threat of jihadist groups.
The election campaign for the first round of voting was marred by violence between supporters and opponents of the President challenging the regularity of the electoral register.
It was preceded by the arrest of personalities and the announcement of a failed revolt for power.