Nigerien opposition leader Mahamane Ousmane has claimed he narrowly won the country’s presidential election, as further violence erupted a day after official results largely gave his rival the victory.
“The compilation of the results … which we have in our possession through our representatives in the various polling stations gives us the victory with 50.3% of the vote,” Ousmane said on Wednesday, according to a video by a speech he gave in the southeastern town of Zinder.
According to the provisional results announced by the Independent National Electoral Commission (CENI), former Interior Minister Mohamed Bazoum won 55.75% of the vote in the second round on Sunday and Ousmane 44.25%.
Police clashed with supporters of Ousmane in the capital, Niamey, after the CENI announcement on Tuesday, AFP news agency reported.
Sources in the city said at least one police station and shops belonging to people perceived to be close to the government had been looted.
In Dosso, 100 km south of Niamey, the offices of a pro-government party were damaged by fire, residents said.
New violence broke out on Wednesday morning in the central area of the Niamey market. Protesters threw stones and police responded with tear gas, and at least one gas station was attacked, according to AFP.
In the afternoon, protesters clashed with security forces in the southwestern town of Kollo, residents said.
Internet access was severely reduced on Wednesday in Niamey and Zinder.
Also on Wednesday, Moumouni Boureima, former chief of staff of the armed forces, was arrested at his home, said a security source. He was accused of leading the unrest after the election results were announced, the source told AFP.
Boureima is said to be close to Hama Amadou, the man who was supposed to be the most formidable opposition candidate in the elections. But Amadou was banned from running due to a conviction for trafficking in babies – a charge he said was politically motivated – and gave his support to Ousmane.
The elections were billed as the first democratic transition in the history of the coup-prone state. President Mahamadou Issoufou voluntarily resigns after two five-year terms.
Bazoum, co-founder with Issoufou of the ruling PNDS party, won just over 39% of the vote in the first round on December 27. Ousmane won just under 17%.
In 1993, Ousmane became the first democratically elected president of Niger, only to be overthrown in a coup three years later.
In his speech, Ousmane insisted that “fraud” had been committed “almost everywhere in all regions of Niger”.
“You have clearly expressed your desire to break with a poor government, you have expressed your desire for change, for an emerging Niger,” Ousmane said, addressing Nigeriens.
“This desire for change was expressed by your overwhelming vote in favor of me,” he said.
In the constituency of Timia, in the region of Agadez, “a participation rate of 103% was recorded, with a score of 99% in favor of the candidate of the ruling party,” he said.
“In these areas, our delegates were forced at gunpoint to sign certifications (of the vote) without any possibility of adding remarks,” he said.
The CENI has yet to comment on the allegations of irregularities. An observer mission from the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) declared that the vote took place “under free, fair, credible and transparent conditions”.
However, it was marred by two attacks that left eight dead in two regions where armed groups are active.
Seven of the victims were election officials from the western region of Tillaberi, near the border with Mali, whose vehicle struck a landmine as they made their way to the polls.
Bazoum, speaking at his party headquarters on Tuesday, said he would be “the president of all Nigeriens” and contacted Ousmane.
“Knowing his wisdom, I would like to count on him,” Bazoum said.
“If the opposition has doubts [about the election], he should be able to have the evidence ”to submit to the Constitutional Court, which certifies the results, he declared.
The leaders of Côte d’Ivoire, Burkina Faso, Mauritania and Chad congratulated Bazoum on his victory.
The organization of the Francophonie in Francophone countries, for its part, condemned the post-electoral violence.
Niger is the poorest country in the world according to the United Nations development ranking of 189 countries. It is also grappling with armed campaigns that spilled over from Mali to the west and Nigeria to the southeast. Hundreds of lives have been lost and an estimated 460,000 people have fled their homes.