“It is vital to support the electoral process in order to consolidate gains… for peace… by way of peaceful and credible, transparent and participatory elections,” UN special envoy to west Africa elections Mohamed Ibn Chambas told a press briefing.
Chambas on Thursday wrapped up three days of talks with political parties, civil society leaders, local and international non-governmental organisations and the Independent National Electoral Commission (CENI), which organises the general elections.
His visit to the deeply poor nation south of the Sahara came seven months after Islamic extremists from Nigeria’s Boko Haram group and their local sympathisers began to launch murderous raids on the southern Diffa region.
Niger, whose primary source of foreign income is uranium, has joined a regional military alliance to fight Boko Haram, infamous for mass abductions and village massacres.
The UN diplomat had talks with President Mahamadou Issoufou, who was elected in 2011 after the end of the fourth period of military rule. Issoufou plans to seek a second term in next year’s vote.
Chambas said that everybody he had spoken with “wishes to avoid a political crisis in Niger”, while he stressed “the importance of maintaining stability”.
“Niger is caught in a vice between the terrorist attacks of Boko Haram in the south, the instability in Libya in the north and the precarious situation on the west on the border with Mali,” where armed groups linked to al-Qaeda operate, he added.
In spite of these threats, “Niger remains an island of stability, but this stability is fragile,” the UN envoy said.
Tensions are high among opposition parties that accuse Issoufou of provoking rifts in their ranks the better to win a fresh term. The president’s supporters say the trouble arises from “internal problems” besetting their rivals.
The opposition challenged a proposed timetable for voting released in August by the CENI, after accusing the Constitutional Court, which approves candidates and election results, of being in the president’s pocket.