By DALATOU MAMANE
NIAMEY, Niger (AP) — Deadly violence struck Niger’s presidential elections Sunday when seven members of the National Electoral Commission were killed when their car hit an explosive device, the government announced.
Three others were severely injured in the explosion which occurred in Gotheye village in the Tillaberi region in the country’s west, Addine Agalass, an advisor to Tillaberi’s governor told The Associated Press by phone.
The attack happened while Nigeriens were nearly finished voting in the second round of the country’s presidential elections. It’s unclear if it was intended to target the electoral commission officials or if it was related to the election, said Agalass.
The West African nation’s been battling rising attacks by Islamic extremists for years and Niger experts had warned that Sunday’s elections could see violence. In January at least 100 people were killed when extremists attacked two villages near the border with Mali. Thousands of people have been killed and hundreds of thousands displaced despite the presence of thousands of regional and international troops.
“Niger has faced growing insecurity on many of its borders, including Mali, Burkina Faso, Niger and Libya,” said Ibrahim Yahaya Ibrahim, senior analyst for the Sahel at the International Crisis Group. “Growing insecurity is one of the major challenges that the upcoming administration will have to face,” he said
Former foreign affairs minister Mohamed Bazoum, who received about 39% of the vote in the first round in December, is running against former president Mahamane Ousmane, who won nearly 17% of that vote, according to the offical results.
The winner of Sunday’s vote will succeed President Mahamadou Issoufou who is stepping down after serving two terms, in accordance with Niger’s constitution. Issoufou’s decision to respect the constitution has been widely hailed and paves the way for Niger’s first peaceful, democratic transfer of power since its independence from France in 1960. The West African nation has seen four coups.
After voting at the city hall of Niamey, the capital, Issoufou told journalists he was proud of Nigeriens for their political maturity and for setting a strong democratic example.
“I’m proud to be the first democratically elected president in our history to transfer power to another democratically elected president. It’s a major event in the political life of our country,” said Issoufou.
Issoufou’s chosen successor is Bazoum, 71, a longtime Cabinet minister who is from Niger’s small ethnic Arab minority. After voting, Bazoum said he had just spent several weeks in the country’s interior visiting villages in hopes that the vote would “take place in a calm, disciplined and friendly atmosphere,” he said.
Of Niger’s 23 million people, some 7.4 million are registered to vote. In the parliamentary and presidential elections which took place on December 27 turnout was approximately 67%.
Analysts say that while the new administration is unlikely to achieve rapid success in stemming the violence, a peaceful transition of power would be a strong sign to western countries to continue supporting Niger’s counter-terrorism operations, said Alexandre Raymakers, senior Africa analyst at Verisk Maplecroft, a global risk consultancy.
The candidates are trying to entice voters through various campaign promises.
A teacher by training, Bazoum, a member of the ruling Nigerien Party for Democracy and Socialism, has promised to build boarding schools for girls to encourage them to remain in school longer, which he said would help reduce child marriage in a country with many teenage pregnancies.
But peace is what locals say they really want from the country’s next leader.
“The new president needs to focus on our security at the borders and in our cities,” said Abdou Razak, a resident of Niamey.
AP journalist Sam Mednick in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso, contributed.
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