Freedom in the World
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Niger’s political rights rating declined from 3 to 4 due to the repressive conditions surrounding the 2016 presidential and legislative elections, including harassment of the opposition, as well as alleged irregularities in the balloting itself.
The current regime in Niger was democratically elected in 2011, and reelected in 2016 in a polling process reportedly plagued by serious irregularities. The struggle to meet the security challenges that surround Niger has served as an alibi for the government to restrict freedoms and civil liberties. Security, transparency, economic prosperity, and gender equality are limited.
- In February and March, Niger held legislative and presidential elections in an environment in which the primary opponent of the incumbent president was held in jail. Widespread electoral irregularities were reported.
- Authorities in October announced the formation of a unity government, after one of the major opposition parties joined the ruling coalition.
- In June, the government banned an international correspondent from the country in connection with her coverage of Boko Haram violence. A few days later, a local civil society activist was sentenced to six months in jail for criticizing the government in a Facebook comment.
- In December, more than 30 Boko Haram fighters turned themselves in to the government, in what appeared to be the first abandonment of the jihadist insurgent movement by Nigerien recruits.
President Mahamadou Issoufou was reelected for a second five-year term in March. The elections happened in a context of political tension, as opposition leader Hama Amadou, Issoufou’s most significant challenger for the presidency, was jailed during the entire electoral process, accused of involvement in a baby-trafficking scandal. The opposition boycotted the second round of the presidential poll, which Issoufou won with 92 percent of the vote. In legislative polls held in February, Issoufou’s Party for Democracy and Socialism (PNDS) won 75 seats in the 171-seat legislature, while Amadou’s Nigerien Democratic Movement for an African Federation (MODEN/FA) won 25 seats, and former prime minister Seini Oumarou’s National Movement for a Developing Society (MNSD) took 20 seats. Thirteen smaller parties divided the remaining seats. The elections were reportedly plagued with irregularities such as vote buying, underage voting, and rigging of election results, and combined with pressure by the government on the opposition, effectively resulted in the installation of a government that was not freely and fairly elected. The local elections, initially scheduled to take place in July 2016, were postponed. Amadou was bailed in March, after the presidential election was completed.
Although no major outbreaks of violence occurred during the electoral process, tension between government and opposition supporters was high, and often took on an ethno-regionalist character. In October 2016, authorities announced the formation of a government of national unity after the opposition MNSD joined the ruling majority. A new cabinet with 42 ministers was subsequently announced, prompting criticism for being excessively large at a time when the country was experiencing an economic downturn, and the government was struggling to provide basic services.
These political tensions mounted against a backdrop of a deteriorating security situation, as Islamic insurgent groups active in neighboring countries threatened to encroach on Niger. Although Niger has so far managed to maintain a precarious stability, it has undermined civil liberties in the process. The fight against the militant group Boko Haram has led the government to declare states of emergency in the Diffa region near the border with Nigeria, allowing the army to engage in mass arrests and detain those suspected of links with terrorist organizations. Journalists, demonstrators, and civil society activists have faced harassment and obstruction by officials who cite security grounds to justify their actions.
In December 2016, more than 30 Boko Haram fighters surrendered their weapons and turned themselves in to the government, in what appeared to be the first abandonment of the jihadist insurgent movement by Nigerien recruits. They will reportedly receive amnesty and participate in deradicalization and reintegration programs.
This country report has been abridged for Freedom in the World 2017. For background information on political rights and civil liberties in Niger, see Freedom in the World 2016.