On 21 February Nigeriens go to the polls to elect a president and a new parliament. It is the second election after the last military coup in 2010. President Mahamadou Issoufou hopes to be re-elected for a second term.
In the weeks ahead of the polls, Nigerien President Mahamadou Issoufou and his ministers had tried to score political points. They inaugurated a railway line, school buildings and irrigation projects. Even before the campaigns officially began, state-owned media continuously reported the achievements of the government's since the last elections in 2011.
Fifteen candidates are contesting for the presidency to be elected on 21 February. President Issoufou wants a second term. In addition, the people of Niger can elect a new parliament. But on the concrete programs of the candidates the voters have so far received little. Instead, the government, the opposition and civil society organisations are debating the possibility of having a peaceful conduct of the elections.
Prominent female opposition politician boycott
One of the few women among the Nigerien political leaders decided not to contest this time. Mariama Bayard Gamatié was in 2011 the first and only woman who competed for the presidency. She is still one of the most prominent voices of the opposition. She does not see a basis for a fair approach in these elections. "Therefore, I decided not to take part, to create a beautiful image for them" she said in an interview with DW. "I do not want to be there, so that one can say, yes, there is also a woman."
The major point of contention is the electoral roll. The enrollment commission had temporarily created such chaos that even members of the ruling parties were angry. In early January the Organization of the Francophonie had to interven to sort out the voter register. Altogether, there were 7,5 million names on the list. Niger has a very young population, more than half of its estimated 18 million inhabitants are too young to vote.
Opposition candidate imprisoned
Opposition leaders like Mariama Bayard criticized the government for using all means to impede campaigns by the opposition. While the influential state television reported almost exclusively on the activities of government members, opposition media were battling with the judiciary. Opposition demonstrations are often banned, ostensibly for security reasons. However, the main scandal before the election date is the imprisonment of one of the main opposition candidates.
Hama Amadou, once parliamentary speaker and leader of the party "MODEN-FA Lumana" has been on remand since November. He was said to be part of a baby merchant ring. Nevertheless, the constitutional court has approved his candidacy. "The doggedness with which he is pursued, goes far beyond the usual", his lawyer Boubacar Mossi said. Moosi is also deputy chairman of the Lumana in Parliament. "This is political persecution and also affects his supporters. All leaders of Lumana are currently in jail" he said. Mossi recalls that all other main suspects of the baby trafficking scandal were released on bail.
Justice minister Marou Amadou, himself a former human rights activist, does not want to hear about government's influence on media and the judiciary. "If a politician is involved in trafficking foreign children, then he must be followed, regardless of who he is," Amadou stressed in an interview with DW. And in view of the media, he said no journalist had been prosecuted for his work. But whoever engages in ethnic propaganda or endangers public order, must face the law.
Intense mood ahead of elections
The mood is as tense as never before, as most observers and actors agree. During the official launch of the election campaign on January 31, the government further fuelled the dispute. President Issoufou could win in the very first round of voting. Not only opposition supporters dare this confidence, but the frustration about the levels of poverty after five years of Issoufou's rule is felt throughout the country. Seini Oumarou, candidate of the largest opposition party, the MNSD Nasara sees that distrust over the government has grown. Neither party was strong enough to win on the first ballot. ''Even the rulers know that said Oumarou. ''Now should one party emerge as the as the winner in the first round, then that would cause problems."
The opposition leader provokes the fears of many people in Niger that could lead to election violence for the first time. Also well-known representatives of civil society groups such as civil-rights activist Moussa Tchangari confirmed that an election had never caused such a feeling of fear. The dispute has now taken an ethnic dimension. President Issoufou belongs to the majority Hausaethnic group, while Hama Amadou is considered a representative of the Djerma minority.
Tchangari does not see an immediate risk in a breakup of national unity, which many people in Niger are very proud of. "But there are people with a tendency towards this direction, as a result of the harsh confrontation between the government and Hama Amadou's party. With his arrest this kind of discourse is actually broken. "Tchangari hopes that in the end, the people of Niger can show political maturity and express their frustration through the ballot at the polls and not with loud protests or violence.
Citizens have other concerns
About the dispute between the government and opposition, many citizens only shake their heads. Adamou Chaibou is the head of motorcycle taxi union in the city Konni, directly on the border with the bigger neighbor Nigeria. He particularly wishes that politicians solve their specific problems. Working as a motorcycle taxi driver, especially for young people is a way out of poverty and crime, emphasized Chaibou. "So far, we have not received any help for our business from politicians. We hope that God gives us politicians that support our businesses."