Seven election workers were killed during Niger’s presidential vote on Sunday when their vehicle struck a landmine, a local official said, marrying a day set to mark the country’s first democratic transition.
The West African country regularly suffers attacks from Islamist militants and had increased security to protect the vote, with ruling party candidate Mohamed Bazoum facing former President Mahamane Ousmane.
A vehicle belonging to the Election Commission (CENI) and carrying election workers to their polling stations hit a mine in the rural municipality of Dargol in the southwest, says Harouna Mounkaila, vice president of CENI’s local branch.
“They left to leave the ballot box and the members of the polling station,” Moukaila told Reuters, adding that three other workers were seriously injured.
Dargol is located about 80 km from the border with Mali, a fireplace for militant activity. An attack on two villages near the border in January killed at least 100 civilians, the worst incident in recent times.
Nigeria’s dual security crises – one near its western border with Mali and Burkina Faso, where militants linked to al Qaeda and the Islamic State operate, and the other along the southeastern border with Nigeria, where Boko Haram is active – were the dominant campaign issues.
Continuity versus change
In the first round on December 27, the ruling party candidate Bazoum, a former interior and foreign minister, won 39.3% of the vote for Ousmanes’ 17%. Bazoum then won the approvals of the candidates who came third and fourth in the first round.
In the capital, Niamey, the vote seemed to go smoothly. After voting, President Mahamadou Issoufou, who is retiring after two five – year terms, praised the historic nature of the election in a country that has seen four coups since independence from France in 1960.
Bazoum, for his part, expected self-confidence.
“I hope luck is on my side, but I have many reasons to believe it really is,” he said.
The 61-year-old Bazoum has promised to continue Issoufou’s policies to crack down on militants linked to al-Qaeda and the Islamic State and to renew the economy.
Ousmane, 71, was Niger’s first democratically elected president and was ousted in a military coup in 1996. He has been approved by a dozen smaller parties and candidates in the first round and has promised to change and tackle corruption.
“The vote is in every way between continuity and change,” said Mahamadou Harouna, a 30-year-old student who declined to say how he voted.
One of the world’s poorest countries, Niger has struggled with drought, floods, coronavirus and weak prices for its main export, uranium.
Ousmane has rejected the conventional wisdom that Bazoum is the favorite and claims that the ruling party’s candidate margin was due to fraud without providing evidence.
“If citizens ever notice fraud, I’m afraid the situation will be difficult to deal with,” he said after voting on Sunday.