Two Recent Analyses of Niger’s Elections

Niger will hold the first round of its presidential and legislative elections on December 27, and municipal and regional elections on December 13 (see more details on the timetable here). I expect the ruling party’s candidate, Mohamed Bazoum, to win, quite possibly in the first round.

Here are two recent analyses I’ve read.

Tatiana Smirnova, “Une autre présidentielle sous tension en Afrique de l’Ouest : le cas nigérien” in Bulletin FrancoPaix, Vol. 8, No. 5, pp. 8-10. The conclusion:

This text shows that the opposition in Niger, today essentially composed of different formations coming out of the old single party [the MNSD], is weakened. Nevertheless, these divisions will probably not prevent the opposition from getting organized and supporting a candidate capable of rallying people against PNDS-Tarayya [the current ruling party]. The 2020 election will thus symbolize the restructuring of the Nigerien political scene, a process linked to PNDS-Tarayya’s arrival in power in 2011 after dozens of years spent in the opposition, and/or in circumstantial coalitions with MNSD-Nassara and its allies during the period 1990-2011. This election will also be an indicator of the capacity of Nigerien institutions and politicians to collaborate in order to avoid the worst scenarios.

Sebastian Elischer, “Niger’s Elections Amid Violence and Authoritarian Backsliding,” Italian Institute for International Political Studies. An excerpt:

The PNDS is the only party that has a viable party infrastructure across the country. So far, the PNDS has managed to maintain a united front, which is a rare achievement in Niger’s volatile party system. Hama Amadou, a key architect of Issoufou’s 2011 electoral success, managed to reach the second round of the presidential election in 2016. This was an impressive achievement given that he spent the electoral campaign behind bars. Amadou’s political vehicle, Moden FA Lumana suffers from internal rivalries. Seyni Oumarou, the current high representative of the President and a former Prime Minister (2007 to 2009) is another top contender. His party, the Mouvement National de la Société de Développement (MNSD) shaped Nigerien politics throughout the 1990s and 2000s. Since the downfall of President Tandja in 2010 it has experienced many breakaways. Bazoum, Amadou, and Oumarou have been political household names since the return of multiparty democracy in 1993. To what extent either of the three can inject popular enthusiasm into the electoral process is questionable.

Niger: A Divided Opposition in the Lead-Up to Presidential Elections

(Hat tip to the University of Florida’s Sahel Research Group newsletter for the initial sources for this post – if you’re not signed up, you can sign up here.)

In 2016, Niger’s President Mahamadou Issoufou won a smashing re-election victory in the second round, with 92.5% of the vote – all while the runner-up, former speaker of parliament Hama Amadou, was in detention.

Fast forward to 2020, and Issoufou is now term-limited. His party, the Parti Nigerien pour la Democratie et le Socialisme (Nigerien Party for Democracy and Socialism, PNDS-Tarayya), has designated the prominent politician and party heavyweight Mohamed Bazoum as its candidate for the December 27 elections this year (which will go to a second round in February 2021 if necessary). Bazoum has spent much of the past three months or so touring the country to rally support, before the official campaign period begins in December.

How is the opposition to Bazoum and the PNDS-Tarayya shaping up?

First of all, Amadou is a declared candidate, but his legal ability to run again is unclear. At issue is whether Amadou’s conviction in a human trafficking case should disqualify him from running this year. Amadou has consistently denounced the case, which began in 2014, as baseless and politically motivated; the charges came after a falling-out between Issoufou and Amadou, formerly allies. Freed in March of this year under a COVID-related amnesty, Amadou apparently may have to serve several more months of a one-year sentence. Regarding the 2020/2021 elections, Amadou argues that he fulfills the core requirements of the Constitution, namely being born in Niger and having full civil and political rights. The counter-argument, if I understand it correctly, is that the electoral code blocks any would-be candidate who has been sentenced to a year’s imprisonment.

Meanwhile, Amadou’s party, the Mouvement démocratique nigérien pour une fédération africain (Democratic Nigerien Movement for an African Federation, MODEN/FA-Lumana), is divided. On September 19, at a party congress in Dosso (map), one wing of the party nominated Amadou as its candidate. Meanwhile, on the same day and in the same city, another wing of the party nominated Noma Oumarou, who been interim president of the party in Amadou’s absence, as its candidate. This power struggle has been going on for some time now; in August, a court declared that Oumarou, rather than the national political bureau of the party, was the sole figure qualified to speak and act on behalf of the party. For more on the intra-party fight, see here.

The Constitutional Court is charged with publishing the final list of candidates by December 1, so more than two months of maneuvering remain. I would not be surprised if Amadou is ultimately blocked from contesting.

Meanwhile, another significant declared candidate is former military ruler Salou Djibo (in power 2010-2011), nominated by his Peace Justice Progress party on June 28. And there are many others – coming like rain, to paraphrase this headline. One other major candidate is former President Mahamane Ousmane (in power 1993-1996).

The disunity of the opposition is often cited as a key factor in incumbent victories in West Africa and beyond. The opposition itself is often blamed for its own divisions, although voices often charge – in ways that are difficult to either confirm or disprove – that such fragmentation is abetted and encouraged by incumbents from behind the scenes.

We’ll see what happens. I’m expecting Bazoum to coast to victory, even in the first round, but I’ve been wrong before.

On the topic of party proliferation in West Africa, Catherine Kelly’s recent book is highly recommended.

Key Upcoming Dates in Niger’s Electoral Calendar

Niger will hold the first round of its presidential elections, coupled with legislative elections, on December 27 of this year; local and regional elections will come two weeks earlier, on December 13.

The ruling part’s presidential candidate, Mohamed Bazoum, has been in unofficial campaign mode since he left government on June 29. He has been touring the entire country to rally the Parti Nigerien pour la Democratie et le Socialisme (Nigerien Party for Democracy and Socialism, PNDS-Tarayya). Here is one of his latest stops, from the Maradi Region in south central Niger:

So what is supposed to happen, logistically, between now and December 27? A really useful starting point for understanding the Nigerien political system is the Trans-Saharan Elections Project at the University of Florida’s Sahel Research Group, which has pages detailing different countries’ systems – here is the page for Niger.

Another useful resource is this calendar from Niger’s Independent National Electoral Commission (French acronym CENI). I am using the version uploaded to their site on August 6, with a file name dated July 28, so I believe it is fairly current/accurate. Here, according to the calendar, are the key upcoming dates:

  • The main logistical issue at present is the finalization of “biometric electoral lists,” the enrollment of citizens/voters, and the distribution of biometric voter cards. The “definitive Biometric Electoral File” is meant to be published in Niger’s Official Journal on September 4, and distribution of cards is scheduled to begin on September 17 (p. 8). As in other cards, this process has been controversial; the president of CENI, Issaka Souna, gave a press conference on August 30 to address “rumors…that the Commission had turned its back on the Biometric Electoral File and particularly on the biometric voter’s card.”
  • Other preparations in summer and fall involve the training of the electoral corps, the selection of members of voting bureaus, etc.
  • By December 1: The Constitutional Court publishes the definitive list of candidates for the first round of the presidential elections.
  • By December 2: After validation by the Constitutional Court, the government publishes the list of candidates for the legislative elections.
  • December 2-11: The official campaign period for the regional and communal elections.
  • December 5-25: The official campaign period opens for the presidential and legislative elections.
  • December 13: Voters cast ballots in regional and communal elections.
  • Between December 13 and 19: Proclamation of provisional results for regional and communal elections.
  • Between December 20 and January 18, 2021: Proclamation of final results for regional and communal elections.
  • December 27: Voters cast ballots for presidential and legislative elections.
  • By January 1, 2021: CENI publishes provisional results for presidential and legislative elections.
  • Between January 2 and January 30: Constitutional Court announces definitive results for the first round of the presidential elections.
  • Between January 2 and January 31: Constitutional Court announces definitive results for the legislative elections.
  • January 29 (if relevant): The official campaign period opens for the second round of the presidential elections.
  • February 19: Official campaign period closes.
  • February 21: Voters cast ballots for the second round of the presidential elections.
  • Between February 22 and February 26: CENI announces provisional results of the second round.
  • Between February 27 and March 26: The Constitutional Court publishes the final results of the second round.

Brief Analysis

What stands out to me is the complexity of the calendar – any electoral calendar is necessarily going to be complex, but to ask voters to come to the polls twice in two weeks seems fated to cut into turnout on one or both of the voting days. As noted in a previous post, insecurity in western and southeastern Niger may also complicate things, on multiple levels. First, although the presidential election date is highly unlikely to change, and although I wouldn’t expect the legislative election date to change, the same does not hold true for local and regional elections – Nigerien authorities have already suggested that under the state of emergency in the Tillabéry Region in the west, some elections may be delayed. Second, insecurity will undoubtedly limit some voters’ access to polling places – not necessarily because jihadists, bandits, or others directly attempt to close voting centers or block voters’ access (although that may happen, as in central Mali in 2018) – but just because violence and uncertainty will dampen some people’s enthusiasm/willingness for undertaking the necessary travel/risk. Third, you have the closely related issue of displacement. As of July 31, according to UNHCR and Nigerien government data, there are over 265,000 people internally displaced in Niger. That’s a lot of voters, or would-be voters, who may have difficulty casting ballots due to logistical and/or security reasons.

Another thing that stands out to me is the combination of (a) the relatively late date for finalizing the list of candidates and (b) the relatively wide timeframes available to authorities for publishing final results. I don’t think Nigerien authorities will hold back results until the end of those timeframes, but there are, so to speak, ample opportunities for authorities to shape the elections and their outcome on both the front end and the back end of the process.

Niger: Ruling Party Presidential Election Candidate Mohamed Bazoum on the Campaign Trail

Niger’s term-limited President Mahamadou Issoufou is set to step down in 2021. With elections approaching in December 2020 (first round), the ruling Parti Nigerien pour la Democratie et le Socialisme (Nigerien Party for Democracy and Socialism, PNDS-Tarayya) has chosen one of its founders and longtime leaders, Mohamed Bazoum, as its presidential candidate. In order to forestall intra-party competition, Bazoum was invested as the party’s candidate back in March 2019. More recently, Bazoum left government (he was most recently Minister of the Interior) during a cabinet reshuffle announced on June 29; the move was explicitly done to prepare his presidential campaign.

The official campaign period is, if I understand the regulations summarized here, 21 days. Those days are far off for now. This month, however, Bazoum has embarked on a tour to rally the PNDS-Tarayya faithful, in what looks a lot to me like campaigning. He arrived in the Dosso Region on July 10, and then moved to tour the Tahoua Region starting July 18 (see a map of Niger’s regions here). This is far from the first time Bazoum has toured the country, of course, but this offers a snapshot of the evolving pre-campaign.

At least judging from the photographs, he can draw a crowd. This is in Illéla, Tahoua:

Bazoum’s multicultural and multi-linguistic fluency is also on display on this tour. Ethnically Arab, Bazoum hails from southeast/south central Niger: he was born in Bilabrine (Diffa Region), grew up in Tesker (Zinder Region), completed secondary school in Zinder city, and later represented Tesker as a deputy in the National Assembly. If elected president, Bazoum would be one of the few heads of state in Niger’s history to come from an ethnic group other than the Hausa or the Zarma, the two largest ethnic groups in the country (Mamadou Tandja, president from 1999-2010, “is of mixed Mauritanian, Kanuri, and Fulani parentage,” the Kanuri and Fulani being two minority ethnic groups in the country).

Here is Bazoum speaking fluent Hausa in Birni Gaouré during his tour of Dosso:

It is not surprising that a major Nigerien politician would be multi-lingual, obviously. But the basic messages of this tour appear to revolve around party unity and around the idea of the candidate as a national figure. Or perhaps the message is simply “victory.” Here is one local PNDS-Tarayya section, promising that Bazoum will win in the first round: