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Niger – Expert Briefing

  • Niger’s 2010 constitution established a semi-presidential system in which the president and the prime minister share executive power. A president can only serve two five-year terms
  • The unicameral National Assembly currently has 113 seats, but this will increase to 171 in 2016. All members of the parliament are elected through universal suffrage
  • The last presidential and legislative elections took place in 2011. Issoufou Mahamadou, long-term leader of the political opposition, won the presidency in a run-off with 58% of the vote
  • Mahamadou’s party, the Nigerien Party for Democracy and Socialism (PNDS Tarayya), won only 33% of seats in the parliament and  formed a coalition, the Nigerien Movement for Renaissance (MRN), in order to secure a legislative majority
  • The presidential and legislative elections are scheduled for 21 February 2016
  • Follow the campaign on Twitter using the hashtags: #Niger2016, #Takara2016, #NigerVote

From independence in 1960 until 1974, Niger was ruled by President Diori Hamani, the “father of the nation”. Hamani established a single-party system under which his party, the Nigerien Progressive Party – African Democratic Rally (PPN-RDA), won 100% of votes in the 1965 and 1970 presidential and legislative elections. In 1974, he was ousted in a military coup led by Lt Colonel Seyni Kountché. It was this coup that inaugurated the military’s involvement in Niger’s politics – involvement that manifested itself in three subsequent coups in 1996, 1999, and 2010.

Kountché’s junta dissolved the constitution and adopted a ‘state of exception’ that lasted until his death in 1987. His successor, General Ali Seybou, adopted a new constitution that re-established single-party rule and organised presidential elections for 1989 which his party, the Nigerien Movement for Social Democracy (MNSD Nassara), won comprehensively. Less than a year later, however, a combination of international pressure and domestic protests forced President Seybou towards democratic reform.

A national conference held in 1991 led to the drafting of a new constitution that was adopted by referendum in 1992. The organisation of Niger’s first multi-party elections followed in 1993. Mahamane Ousmane, a young and inexperienced politician standing for the Convention for Democracy and Socialism (CDS Rahama) won the presidential vote in a run-off against Tandja Mamadou, the candidate of MNSD Nassara.

A growing rivalry between President Ousmane and his prime minister, Issoufou Mahamadou, over the sharing of strategic positions in the government resulted in paralysis of state institutions. This stalemate was brought to an end by the military, which again seized power in a January 1996 coup. After a short military transition, the junta organised presidential elections in which its leader Colonel Ibrahim Bare Mainassara won in the first round with 52% in what was widely seen as a fraudulent vote. Political turmoil was followed by another coup just three years later.

A short military transition ended with the adoption of a new constitution and the organisation of multiparty elections in 1999. Elections that were dominated by MNSD Nassara and its presidential candidate Tandja Mamadou, a retired military officer and a member of the former junta. Re-elected in 2004 in a run-off against Issoufou, towards the end of his second term Tandja organised a referendum that adopted a new constitution and allowed him to bypass the presidential term limit. But this initiative, popularly known as the Tazarce, was short-lived. Only six months after the referendum the military ousted Tandja, making him the fourth leader to leave the presidency in Niger in this way.

Military coups are often viewed as indicators of weakness of democratic institutions, but in the case of Niger they may imply the resilience of those institutions. The three coups that happened after the democratisation process commenced occurred either against a backdrop of a complete paralysis of government, such as in 1996, or to prevent a move toward authoritarianism, such as in 1999 and 2010. In all three cases, the coups opened the door to the return of multi-party democracy.

The 2010 military coup was followed by the adoption of Niger’s seventh constitution and the organisation of multi-party elections in 2011. Running for a fifth time, Issoufou Mahamadou, leader of PNDS Tarayya and long-time opposition candidate won 58% of the vote in a run-off against Seyni Oumarou of MNSD Nassara, in what international observers judged to be free and fair elections. Issoufou’s presidency has been marked by insecurity instigated by Boko Haram and Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb and a profound fragmentation of opposition parties. In a concerning development, growing tensions between President Issoufou and his former ally, now challenger in the upcoming elections, Hama Amadou led to the arrest and imprisonment of the later on charges of child-trafficking.

There are other concerns ahead of the 2016 vote. Opposition parties have questioned the reliability of the electoral list and the impartiality of the constitutional court. The electoral commission has endeavored to ensure the credibility of the electoral list, but the court’s impartiality remains problematic. While the opposition has agreed to participate in the elections, the lack of trust in the constitutional court may provide a basis for the contestation of February’s election results.

Ibrahim Yahaya Ibrahim is a Ph.D. candidate in Political Science at the University of Florida. He has conducted extensive research in and on the Sahel, and especially on Mauritania and Niger and is a research associate with the Sahel Research Group. He tweets @IbrahimYahayaIb