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Former foreign minister declared preliminary winner in Niger

NIAMEY, Niger - Niger’s electoral commission said Tuesday that former foreign affairs minister Mohamed Bazoum has been elected president of the West African nation, according to preliminary results from the second round of voting Sunday.

The commission said Bazoum received more than 55.7% of the vote, while challenger and opposition candidate Mahamane Ousmane received 44.25%. The results were announced at the Palais de Congres in the capital, Niamey, during a ceremony attended by ambassadors and national and international election observers.

The participation rate for Sunday’s second round vote was 62.9%, which was lower than the first round held Dec. 27 with a turnout of 67.7%, the commission said.

The results must now be approved by the constitutional Court.

If approved, Bazoum 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.

Sunday’s vote was marred by deadly violence when seven members of the National Electoral Commission were killed after their car hit an explosive device. Three others were severely injured in the explosion, which occurred in Gotheye village in the Tillaberi region in the country’s west, according to Addine Agalass, an advisor to Tillaberi’s governor.

The West African nation has been battling rising attacks by Islamic extremists for years and Niger experts had warned that the 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.

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.

Bazoum, 71, is Issoufou’s chosen successor and a longtime Cabinet minister who is from Niger’s small ethnic Arab minority. He is also a teacher by training.
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