Former interior minister Mohamed Bazoum won Niger’s presidential elections, according to provisional results issued on Tuesday, as the opposition cried foul and clashes erupted.
Bazoum, the ruling party’s candidate, picked up 55.75 percent of Sunday’s runoff vote while Mahamane Ousmane garnered 44.25 percent, the Independent National Electoral Commission (CENI) said.
“(These) results are provisional and must be put to the Constitutional Court for its assessment,” CENI chairman Issaka Souna said in an announcement attended by senior officials and members of the diplomatic corps.
He put the turnout at 62.91 percent.
The elections have been showcased as the first democratic transition in the history of the coup-prone Sahel state, which is also battling extreme poverty and two bloody jihadist insurgencies.
But shortly before the results were announced, Ousmane’s campaign blasted the runoff as an “electoral holdup” and urged the public to “mobilise” against it.
“The results that are being published are in many cases not in line with the expression of the people’s will,” said campaign manager Falke Bacharou.
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“(Outgoing President Mahamadou) Issoufou and his side persist in defying the sovereign people of Niger,” Bacharou said as excited supporters shouted “changji,” or “change” in Hausa.
Opposition followers armed with sticks gathered near the headquarters of the ruling Nigerien Party for Democracy and Socialism (PNDS) in Niamey, and set fire to tyres as police fired teargas, an AFP photographer saw.
A local journalist in the southern city Zinder, the second largest in the country, said that protests also broke out there.
– Political veterans –
Issoufou is voluntarily stepping down after two five-year terms, opening the way to Niger’s first handover of power between elected leaders since independence from France in 1960.
Bazoum, 60, co-founder with Issoufou of the PNDS, picked up just over 39 percent of the vote in the first round on December 27.
He campaigned on continuity with the previous government, which promised development while facing the world’s highest birthrate — an average of seven children per woman.
Ousmane, 71, became the country’s first democratically elected president in 1993, only to be toppled in a coup three years later.
This was his fifth attempt at gaining the presidency since his ouster.
He won just under 17 percent in the first round but gained pledges of support from a coalition of 18 opposition parties in the days before the runoff.
The opposition’s most formidable candidate, Hama Amadou, was banned from running because of a conviction for baby trafficking — a charge he slammed as politically motivated.
– Poverty and jihadists –
The world’s poorest nation according to the UN’s development rankings for 189 countries, Niger is also struggling with jihadist insurgencies that have spilled over from Mali in the west and Nigeria in the southeast.
Hundreds of lives have been lost, 460,000 people have fled their homes, and devastating damage has been inflicted on an already struggling economy.
On polling day, seven local workers with CENI were killed when their vehicle hit a land mine in the western region of Tillaberi.
On Monday, a similar device claimed the life of a polling station head in the southeastern region of Diffa. Nine other electoral workers were injured.