Niger Elections: Has Mahamadou Issoufou Clenched It?

Niger held its first round of presidential elections on January 31st. No candidate secured the majority necessary to win outright, so two candidates are advancing to the second round on March 12th. They are Mahamadou Issoufou, who served as Prime Minister from 1993 to 1994 and President of the National Assembly from 1995 to 1996, and Seini Oumarou, who was Prime Minister from 2007 to 2009 and President of the National Assembly from November 2009 until the coup last February. Issofou, a longtime political opponent of ousted President Mamadou Tandja, scored 36%, while Oumarou, a longtime ally of Tandja’s, scored 23%. In the last few days, several defeated candidates have lined up behind Issoufou, likely giving him an unbeatable second-round coalition and making him Niger’s next president.

On Wednesday, third-place finisher Hama Amadou announced his support for Issoufou. Amadou took approximately 20% of the vote in the first round. Yesterday, three more candidates decided to back Issoufou (Fr). These men – Cheiffou Amadou, Moussa Moumouni Djermakoye, and Amadou Boubacar Cissé – together received slightly less than 10% of the vote on January 31st. Another candidate, Mahamane Ousmane, is considering supporting Issoufou.

Assuming the tallies from the first round hold in the second round, Issoufou could win nearly two-thirds of the vote in the second round. Tommy Miles, whose analysis I trust, commented on Twitter, “Unless there are major events prior to 12 March, Issoufou is President of Niger.” There are no guarantees that voters will follow the marching orders of defeated politicians, but Issoufou’s coalition appears to have broad support among various factions.

Issoufou’s growing political strength confirms the media narrative that projected Issoufou as the winner since before the elections. After the first round results appeared, a standing alliance between Oumarou and Hama Amadou briefly seemed to make Oumarou a strong contender. Amadou’s shift to Issoufou’s camp leaves me wondering how Oumarou would be able to assemble a winning coalition. Aside from the period of uncertainty immediately after the first round, observers may look back after March 12 and conclude that Issoufou’s ride back into power was fairly smooth.

I am curious to hear readers’ explanations for Issoufou’s support. Three explanations occur to me. One is that longtime opposition figures can build credibility in African elections and establish themselves as serious contenders for leadership – this happened with Abdoulaye Wade in Senegal, who contested numerous elections before finally winning the presidency. Issoufou’s longevity, and his prior political experience, may attract support. Second, perhaps Issoufou’s election would represent a rejection of Tandja and his legacy. Electing Oumarou would create substantial continuity with the Tandja era, and it seems Nigerien elites and ordinary voters are ready to try another camp. Third, there looks to be a bandwagon effect at work – the perception that Issoufou is strong and has support attracts further support. Clearly Hama Amadou’s decision to back Issoufou helped sway the other candidates who have now joined Issoufou’s coalition.

Whatever the reasons, Issoufou is making gains by the day. March 12 will be here soon, but I imagine Issoufou and his team are feeling confident already.

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