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Country in dire straits holds general election

January 31, 2011 - NIGER

Niger's presidential and legislative election is aimed at restoring civilian rule after a military coup in February. The military ousted President Mamadou Tandja, who had been in power for 10 years and had changed the constitution so he could extend his powers and term of office. A new constitution shapes the election, which could be complicated by the landlocked country's misfortunes: widespread famine from floods, drought and crop failures. Ten candidates have been approved to run.

Campaigning begins on Jan 9. The 10 presidential candidates include Prime Minister Hama Amadou of the Nigerien Democratic Movement (MDN), Mahamane Ousmane of the Niger Progressive Party (CDS), Mahamadou Issoufou of the PNDS-Tarayya party, and Bayard Mariama Gamatie, the country's first female presidential aspirant. Niger, a former French colony that celebrated its 50th anniversary of independence in August, is widely described as one of the poorest countries on Earth. The World Food Program estimates that 7.3 million people - almost half the country's population - are in desperate need of food. Privation and famine following the natural disasters could prevent many voters from getting to the polls. The latest complication is kidnappings linked to al-Qaeda, which are interfering with relief efforts and could interfere with polling. The new constitution reduces the president's powers and reinstates the position of a prime minister, a role abolished by Tandja as he sought to extend his rule in late 2009. Unless further changes are made to the constitution, the prime minister will be running the government and junta members will be barred from running for office. Future presidents will be limited to two terms of five years. Members of parliament will also have to be re-elected every five years.. The party to beat is probably the National Movement for a Developing Society-Nassara (MNSD-Nassara), the majority party in the former unicameral National Assembly. Nine parties will make the effort, either contesting the election individually or in a coalition with other parties. (LAST UPDATED Dec 2010)

Niger River flooding destroying homes and crops (BBC 10 Aug 2010)

Niger Increasing Security Following Al-Qaida Threats Against Aid Workers (VOA 19 Aug 2010)

Insecurity forces aid workers from Niger regions (Reuters 16 Aug 2010)

Date written/update: 2011-01-31