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SITUATION UPDATE 15 February, 2021 Back

Situation Update - Niger Election

Grant Miller

Summary

  • Niger will vote on 21 February 2021 to determine its next president.

  • Niger's Constitutional Court has validated the results of the first round of the election held on 27 December 2020, stating that the top two finishers, presidential candidates Mohamed Bazoum and Mahamane Ousmane, will advance to the second round.
  • Allied opposition parties have produced statements claiming that fraudulent voter activity occurred during the first round and are calling for military surveillance of the February vote.
  • Citizens cite increases in Islamist militant activity as a deterrent from voting.
  • A peaceful transition of power is important to maintain the country’s ability to combat Islamist terrorist groups along its borders.
  • Areas along the country’s western, south-western, and southern borders face a high risk of militant attacks.

Situation

On 27 December 2020, 30 presidential candidates participated in the first round of the presidential election; however, none of the candidates surpassed the 50% of the vote required for an immediate victory.

Niger’s Constitutional Court has ruled that first-place finisher Mohamed Bazoum of the ruling Nigerien Party for Democracy and Socialism (PNDS), and second place Mahamane Ousmane of the opposing Democratic and Republican Renewal (RDR) will participate in the second round. 

Mahamadou Issoufou, Niger’s current president, has vowed to step down at the end of his second term on 2 April 2021. If a successful democratic transfer of power occurs, it will be the first in the country’s history since gaining independence from France in 1960. Since independence, the military has staged four successful coup d'états.

Bazoum obtained 39.33% of the vote in the December election. He is currently the president of PNDS and is pegged as the favoured successor of President Issoufou, who shares a party affiliation. The two politicians have worked closely during Issoufou’s rule; Bazoum has served as Foreign Minister and Interior Minister. During the second round of campaigning, Bazoum has had to form alliances with former candidates and has created partnerships that include Seyni Oumarou (who received 8.95% of the vote in the first round), Albadé Abouba (7.07%), and Oumarou Malam Alma (2.47%), as well as other minor presidential hopefuls. Those in the coalition state that their support is rooted in Bazoum’s promise to consolidate the developmental gains of the current government.

Although Niger is placed last in the United Nations Human Development Report, the country has been applauded by France and other European Union bodies for progress in the eradication of migrant trafficking. To further reinforce his commitment, Bazoum has dubbed his policy platform Renaissance 3, in line with the current government’s Renaissance 1 and Renaissance 2, suggesting a continued focus on poverty reduction and eradicating Islamist violence. With his current political allies, Bazoum’s coalition equates to 65.84% of the first round votes.

Ousmane claimed 16.99% of December’s votes, placing him second in the presidential race. Though tallying over 1 million fewer votes than Bazoum, Ousmane received a majority of votes in Niger’s capital, Niamey.
Ousmane was the first Nigerien to be democratically elected to the office of President, serving from 16 April 1993 until he was removed from power in a military coup d'état on 27 January 1996. In the current race, he acts as a leading figure of the opposition.

Following the announcement of the first-round results, Ousmane entered a coalition composed of 18 parties dubbed the Coalition for Political Alternation (CAP 20-21), which has released a statement detailing unsubstantiated suspicions of fraudulent voting activity. The claims include allegations of threatening behaviour directed towards voting citizens and election officials, an imbalance of spoiled ballots in non-urban areas, uncharacteristically high voter turnout rates in rural areas, and bribes directed to poll workers.

The statement explicitly accuses President Issoufou of orchestrating the “most fraudulent [election] in the history of the democracy.” The coalition has demanded the cancellation of results from particular regions and surveillance by military personnel during the second round of voting to ensure transparency. If this is not done, they claim the nation will risk having the results rejected by the opposition and the people.

Implications

If Niger’s populace and political parties do not accept the results of the election, a military intervention is likely, which would disrupt the burgeoning democratic process.

With Niger’s history of coup d'états, the opposition’s demands could lead to a familiar breakdown of political functions. Government stability is critical if Niger is to continue efforts against Islamic militants.

Shortly after the announcement of the December election results, multiple high-casualty militant attacks have taken place, leading to an extending of security-centred states of emergency in parts of the country.

Travel in Niger requires particular attention near its borders with Burkina Faso, Mali, and Nigeria. The western and south-western borders with Burkina Faso and Mali are subject to frequent attacks by Al-Qaeda and Islamic State affiliated militants, whilst areas near the border with Nigeria experience violent incursions by Boko Haram. Niger is overwhelmingly characterised by rural communities, which are typically the target of these militant attacks.

Recent incidents have resulted in at least 135 fatalities and 20 casualties since August 2020, with 2021 seeing attacks on villages and towns including Tchoma Bangou, Zaroumadareye, and Toumour. Injuries and fatalities in these attacks have also included foreign nationals. Whilst the majority of militant attacks take place in border towns, the election season has seen broader areas of the country impacted by these incidents. Jihadist activity has become particularly concentrated near polling places and election stations, and residents of the Tillabéri Region suggest that this has had a direct impact on voter turnout. A state of emergency is currently in place for the Diffa and Tillabéri regions in response to the heightened state of insecurity.

Along with the threat of militant activity, international observers have pointed to military breaches of human rights as a prominent area of concern in Niger. In 2020, international actors reported that over 100 people were detained without trial by military officials; many of the detainees have since been identified in mass graves, though this led to few repercussions. Tensions throughout the country are likely to be high during this election season because national insecurity has led to at least 250,000 internally displaced people, high unemployment rates, a general air of distrust toward the military, and fear of militant forces. Although the vast political support enjoyed by PNDS’s Bazoum suggests that he will succeed Issoufou as head of state, the opposition’s public request for military involvement may result in increased numbers of security forces being deployed in key towns.

Furthermore, with the opposition stronghold in Niamey, an election result favouring Bazoum could lead to public protests in the capital amid claims of election fraud. Air, land, and river border closures occurred during the first round of voting, and with the adverse security situation affecting voting activity, another border closure may occur. The likelihood of similar nationwide travel disruptions compounded by high-casualty militant attacks in January, suggests that the country will experience volatility throughout February. A continued pattern of jihadist incursions remains likely.