- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 17, 2004

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

NIAMEY, Niger — The president of the largely desert West African country of Niger, Mamadou Tandja, is widely expected to be re-elected this week.

His immense popularity in Niger’s interior and his party’s iron grip on the media have given the former military man, who was elected president in 1999 after failing in election bids in 1993 and 1996, a commanding lead over his five election rivals.

Key among them are former Prime Minister Mahamadou Issoufou, 52, running on the ticket of the Niger Party for Democracy and Socialism-Tarayya (PNDS), and parliamentary speaker Mahamane Ousmane, 54, of the Democratic and Social Convention (CDS) party.

Other hopefuls are Hamid Algabid, 62, leader of the Rally for Democracy and Progress; Moumouni Djermakoye, 65, a retired colonel and government minister; and Amadou Cheiffou, 62, another former prime minister.

Campaigning went off without a hitch or violence after Interior Minister Albade Abouba early this month issued a stern warning to anyone wishing to “sow public disorder” before this past Tuesday’s election.

The warning was aimed at “certain political leaders who might be thinking about provoking unrest in the event that their candidate fails,” as well as “union leaders who appear to have forgotten that there is a dividing line between political obedience and their union activities.”

Media groups who have “dipped too deep into apologies for violence, hatred and lies” were also warned against whipping up dissent, as were any “opportunists.”

The first round of voting took place Tuesday — three days behind schedule, to allow polling day to coincide with the end of Ramadan, the Muslim month of fasting and prayer.

If there is no outright winner this week, a presidential runoff vote will coincide with legislative elections set for Dec. 4.

Mr. Tandja was elected in a second-round vote in 1999 with 60 percent of the vote. He is the first president of Niger to complete a full five-year term since democratic elections were introduced in 1993.

In July, the three parties that back Mr. Tandja won local elections, taking 62 percent of the 3,747 municipal seats. Those elections, funded entirely by international lenders, were the first of their kind in Niger and were considered an important step in paving the way to democracy in one of the world’s poorest countries.

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