Nigeriens voted peacefully in an election meant to end a year of military rule in the West African uranium producer, but the outcome could prove contentious amid worries of fraud and disorganisation.
The election commission said at the weekend it had been informed fake voter identification cards were sold prior to the poll, without saying how many, while eight of the election’s 10 candidates had called in vain for a postponement to the vote to allow time for better preparations.
“I voted, but in a spirit of doubt and disappointment,” said one of the candidates, former premier Hama Amadou, after casting his ballot in the capital Niamey, Reuters reports.
Niger is among the world’s poorest countries and is facing a growing threat from al Qaeda-linked militants operating in its northern desert region, but its minerals riches have drawn billions of dollars in planned investments.
A smooth election is seen as key to countering the rising regional security threat and ensuring minerals investments benefit the country’s 15 million people.
The junta took control of the country in February 2010 after toppling president Mamadou Tandja, who had attempted to extend his time in power, and has won international plaudits for vowing to step down by April.
Its leader, General Salou Djibo, has rejected calls to delay the polls after municipal elections held on January 11 political leaders said were flawed — a move analysts said could undermine the legitimacy of whoever wins.
“At home, the speed with which the ruling junta has sought to end its military government is not universally regarded as a virtue,” said Nana Ampofo, partner at Songhai Advisory LLP.
“For some the poorly organised local elections of 11 January appeared to confirm fears of unreadiness, which if repeated at the presidential and legislative level, could rob the incoming government of legitimacy,” he said.
Officials on Monday reported some cases of delays to opening voting stations due to shortages of materials, similar to problems during local polls. Results are due within three days.
Djibo said on Monday the election marked a new era.
“It gives me a feeling of real satisfaction and hope,” he said after voting amid heavy security. “Hope because it is a new beginning for Niger, a departure that will allow new leaders to focus on development.”
Among the candidates seeking the presidency are veteran opposition leader Mahamadou Issoufou and two former premiers — Seini Oumarou of Tandja’s MNSD party and Hama Amadou. Parliamentary elections are being held simultaneously.
Six candidates including Oumarou announced a coalition seen bolstering the MNSD’s chances and which was immediately attacked by rivals as a step back to the Tandja era.
West African regional bloc ECOWAS has sent hundreds of observers. The European Union has also sent observers, though they have not been deployed in the north of the country after a slew of kidnappings by al Qaeda’s north African wing.
French nuclear firm Areva is the country’s biggest uranium player, although Chinese, Canadian and Australian firms are also planning minerals investments.