afrol News, 31 January - Some 7 million citizens of Niger today were given the opportunity to vote freely in an election that will restore "a model democracy" in the poor Sahelian country. The process has been smooth.
General Salou Djibo, in power since a February 2010 coup, has led the country safely through a democratic transition period including the ample participation of civil society. Today, neither he nor any other military leader stands candidate.
The transition leader today expressed "satisfaction and hope" about the democratic exercise that will end his one-year hold on power in Niger. General Djibo himself cast his vote in central Niamey today, without giving any indication which candidate he supports.
The poll in this vast Sahelian country is organised by Niger's Independent National Electoral Commission (CENI), which has been organised in an all-inclusive manner. CENI has so far elaborated new electoral roll and was hailed for its smooth organisation of the constitutional referendum in Niger in late 2010.
Following the invitation of CENI and the Nigerien government, several international election observer missions are present in Niger. Observers from the European Union during the weekend were stationed in all of Niger's regions, except the remote desert region Agadez, "for security reasons," according to mission leader Santiago Fisas Ayxela.
General Djibo had staged a coup against President Mamadou Tandja as the latter turned increasingly autocratic and tried to change Niger's constitution to secure a third presidential term. The general and his junta early promised to make Niger "a model democracy" during their one-year period of transitional power.
So far, little local and international criticism has emerged against the Niger junta's transitional path. Some demands have been made for ex-President Tandja to
be released. Mr Tandja is still in prison on charges of corruption. There are however indications he may be released after the elections.
While Mr Tandja is in prison, many of his earlier party's followers have flocked around presidential candidates Seini Oumarou and Hama Amadou. Both had been Prime Ministers under Mr Tandja's rule, but have since them distanced themselves from the ex-President's authoritarian tendencies.
There are ten candidates to take over the presidential offices in Niamey. The most mentioned favourite is Mahamadou Issoufou, who was the main opposition leader in the Tandja era and plaid a vital role in mobilising Nigeriens against the old regime's anti-democratic tendencies.
Niger voters were also electing a national parliament today. The new parliament will have greater powers with the new constitution in place, to some degree being able to check the President's powers.
At the beginning of the Tandja era, Niger was experiencing a large degree of freedom and was developing into a firm democracy. Otherwise mostly referred to as an impoverished country periodically haunted by drought and famine, Nigeriens took great pride in their democratic institutions.
There was therefore a great popular support for the outgoing military junta as it became clear that the democratic transition was seriously meant. General Djibo has become a popular man in Niger, and nobody would be surprised if the transitional leader is urged to stand candidate in some coming Nigerien election.
But for now, a civilian will be taking over power in Niger. CENI expects to be able to present its results within one week.
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