Niger held a first-round presidential election in January that will go a to runoff between the two leading candidates March 12. The vote is expected to bring an end to military rule in the West African country, following a February 2010 coup. In an e-mail interview, Alex Thurston, a doctoral candidate in the Religion Department at Northwestern University and author of the Sahel Blog, discussed Niger's election.
WPR: What are the ethnic, political and institutional fault lines in Niger, and which of the main candidates represents them?
Alex Thurston: News reports have emphasized political fault lines in the presidential election, which saw a longtime opponent of ousted President Mamadou Tandja outperform a former ally of Tandja's. Since the first round voting, the major opposition candidate, Mahamadou Issoufou, has been assembling a broad-based political coalition to which several other candidates have pledged support. Seyni Oumarou, the leading ally of Tandja, has so far not been able to muster the same level of support that Issoufou currently enjoys. In other words, Nigerien voters appear to be rejecting Tandja's legacy in favor of the opposition.