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Niger presidential tip Bazoum takes lead for runoff vote

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Ruling party candidate and former minister Mohamed Bazoum won the first round of Niger’s presidential vote, the electoral commission announced on Saturday with a runoff set for next month.

The Independent National Electoral Commission (CENI) said the close ally of outgoing President Mahamadou Issoufou garnered 39.33 percent of the votes at last weekend’s election.

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Bazoum will face former president Mahamane Ousmane, who won 16.99 percent, for the February 20 runoff in the West African country fighting a bloody jihadist insurgency.

Former prime ministers Seini Oumarou and Albade Abouba respectively came third and fourth with 8.95 percent and 7.07 percent of the ballots.

Turnout reached 69.67 percent or 5.2 million of the 7.4 million registered voters, CENI said. 

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The 60-year-old Bazoum, who has been both interior and foreign minister, campaigned on promises of improved security and education and had hoped to clinch victory in the first round.

Bazoum’s ruling Nigerien Party for Democracy and Socialism (PNDS) is also leading in the legislative vote held at the same time with 80 of the 165 seats and five diaspora seats remaining to be decided.

The former French colony is also hoping to see a first peaceful handover between elected presidents.

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However, insecurity overshadowed campaigning, with Niger battered by jihadists on its southwestern border with Mali as well as the southeastern frontier with Nigeria.

Five years of violence have cost hundreds of lives with many more displaced.

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Issoufou, who was elected in 2011 after the country’s last coup in 2010, is voluntarily stepping down after two five-year terms.

In a New Year radio address he hailed the election as “a new, successful page in our country’s democratic history”.

Niger has been unstable since gaining independence 60 years ago and is ranked the world’s poorest country in the UN’s Human Development Index.

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