NIGER: Tandja well placed to win second term as president
Niamey, 20 September 2004 (IRIN) - President Mamadou Tandja of Niger appears well placed to win a second five-year term in elections later this year following a strong showing by his supporters in local government elections in July.
Political analysts also cite strong support for Tandja's rural development policies among the subsistence farmers who account for the majority of the 11 million population of this landlocked and desperately poor West African country.
He has ordered 1,000 new school classrooms to be built each year, along with 1,000 health centres and 1,000 mini-dams for irrigation and 1000 wells for watering livestock.
Tandja's main opponent in the first round of the presidential election on 16 November is likely to be Mahamadou Issoufou, leader of the Niger Party for Democracy and Socialism (PNDS), the largest opposition party in parliament.
If no candidate wins more than 50 percent of the vote in the first round of the presidential poll, a second round run-off between the two leading candidates will be held on 4 December, alongside parliamentary elections.
Issoufou was beaten into second place by Tandja and his ruling National Movement for Society and Development (MNSD) in 1999 after Tandja gained the support of former president Mahamane Ousmane in the second round of the election.
Political analysts in Niamey expect a re-run of the same scenario this year.
Ousmane, who is currently the speaker of parliament, leads the Social Democratic Convention (CDS), the third largest party in the legislature.
Ousmane beat Tandja in the 1993 presidential election and duly became head of state, only to be deposed by a military coup three years later.
However, since then, the two men have reached a political understanding. Ousmane helped Tandja to win power in 1999 and his CDS helped Tandja's MNSD to retain control of local government in this year's municipal polls.
Although Ousmane has officially registered himself as a candidate for this year's presidential election, his party allied itself with Tandja's MNSD and another party, the Alliance for Democracy and Progress (ADP) in the 24 July local council elections.
This three-party presidential movement swept the board, winning 62 percent of all council seats in the country.
Tandja, who is now 66, is a former army colonel. His party, the MNSD, was created by the military junta which swept from power the military regime of Seynou Kountche in a 1987 coup.
However, Tandja's own rise to power has been exclusively through the ballot box.
He was already retired from the army when he became MNSD leader in 1991 and he fought and lost a presidential election before he eventually achieved power in what was generally perceived by international observers as a clean vote five years ago.
Niger is a desperately poor country which ranks only one up from Sierra Leone at the bottom of the United Nations Development Programme's Human Development Index. The former French colony has a gross domestic product of just US$190 per capita and derives a meagre foreign exchange income from exports of cotton and uranium.
According to the United Nations, over 61 percent of its people scrape by on less than $1 per day.
Donors have been invited to help fund two thirds of the estimated $10 million cost of holding this year's presidential and parliamentary elections. But political analysts in Niamey expect Niger’s Independent National Electoral Commission to once more conduct a free, fair and peaceful ballot.
Tandja's ruling MSND has 38 deputies in the outgoing 83-seat parliament. It is the largest party in the single chamber legislature, but lacks an absolute majority.
Issoufou's PNDS fronts the opposition with 18 seats.
Ousmane's CDS, which often supports Tandja's government, has 17.