The Administration of Elections
In 1993, a National Committee for the Supervision of Elections was created that included members of civil society. Its main mission was to ensure that no electoral fraud was taking place. Before the early legislative elections of 1995, political parties from the opposition demanded the creation of a National Independent Electoral Commission (CENI) with jurisdiction over the organization, operations and supervision of elections. Today, the CENI is responsible for the administration of elections, although it is a temporary institution. For each election cycle, the mandate of the members of the governing board and the regular members of the CENI expires, at the latest, two months following the announcement of the final results of the election.
The CENI has a governing board, regular members, and a permanent secretariat. It holds plenary sessions with all its 99 members who meet once a fortnight, and who include not only representatives of State institutions, but also political parties, independent candidates, the media, unions, human rights associations, and women’s associations. The President and the Vice President of the CENI are appointed by decree after they have been nominated as representatives to the CENI by their respective organizations. The designation process creates internal competition in the organizations they represent. The Permanent Secretary and its deputy are selected by the President of the CENI following consultation with political parties. They are subsequently appointed by a decree of the President of the Republic. They are independent from any authority or power other than those of the President of the CENI.
The committee in charge of the electoral lists works under the authority of the Permanent Secretary. The committee has several administrative sections that work on the updating of electoral lists. Decisions are made by consensus. But if it is necessary to vote, only representatives of political parties, of independent candidates, of the State, of associations concerned with human rights and the promotion of democracy, as well as the consortia of women’s associations, can vote. The CENI’s decisions are made by consensus or by the majority of members. The CENI is independent organically and functionally; it is not attached to any ministry. Furthermore, it has administrative and financial independence. The CENI’s mandate is to implement the good conduct of electoral operations, organize the logistics of elections as well as the creation and staffing of polling stations. The CENI is responsible for ensuring the regularity of the ballot and the provision of information regarding rights of voters. It also has the mandate to compile electoral results, to proclaim provisional results and to transmit them to the Constitutional Court.
The CENI is decentralized. It has branches in regions, departments and municipalities. There are eight Regional Electoral Commissions (CER), 36 Departmental Electoral Commissions (CED), and 266 Municipal Electoral Commissions (CEM). There are eight Special Electoral Commissions covering the eight special constituencies that elect each one member of the National Assembly in legislative elections. The composition of these commissions is modeled on the CENI at the central level, except for the number of commissioners; within each commission are the same sub-committees found at national level institution.
A polling station is the smallest entity of the CENI, consisting of a President, two Secretaries, and three Deputy Presidents. Political parties in competition are represented in the polling station. There are 20,899 polling stations in the country with a ratio of 322 voters per polling station. The National Independent Electoral Committee (CENI) consists of a board of senior officials and regular members. The board of senior officials includes (Article 11):
- The President: A judge (minimum of rank 2 in the civil service classification) and must be elected by his peers, or a person known for his/her impartiality, competence and integrity, and must be appointed by decree of the President of the Republic after consultation with political parties.
- The First Vice President: A judge (minimum of rank 2 in the civil service classification) and must be elected by his peers if the President is not a judge. Otherwise, the incumbent must be a person known for his/her impartiality, competence and integrity, and must be appointed by decree of the President of the Republic after consultation with political parties.
- The Second Vice President: A female representative of the consortium of legally-established women’s associations.
- Two Report Writers: appointed by the CENI among its members, the first one must be a representative of an association for human rights or for the promotion of democracy; the second must be a representative of the State.
In reality, the Head of the CENI has always been a judge and in the CENI’s regional chapter, judges have also presided over the local CENI. The involvement of judges confers to electoral results legal legitimacy, but it can also be a source of deadlocks in the organization of elections. For instance, during 2009 when President Tandja decided to stay in power violating the law, the majority of judges refused to play a role in elections. The President had also introduced in the Electoral Code a religious oath that the heads of the CENI were required to take. Judges rejected this change on the grounds that it violated the principle of separation of state and religion in Niger.
In 2010, the elimination from the Electoral Code of provisions relating to the religious oath was a major reform, and most judges resumed their work in the electoral process. However, the religious oath was not completely eliminated from the 2010 Electoral Code, and the presidents and secretaries of polling stations are still required to take it (Article 16). The latter, “shall take the oath upon presentation of a holy book of their religion at the Regional or Departmental Courts or, if necessary, before administrative authorities.” Thus the taking of the oath by CENI Presidents, which represented a very sensitive issue between the executive and the judiciary, was ultimately moved to the less sensitive terrain of the polling stations, where judges are not present.
In 2010-2011, the administration of elections was characterized by the involvement of a new player, the Electoral Processes Support Project (PAPEN), under the auspices of the UNDP (United Nation’s Development Program). The goal of PAPEN was to provide technical and financial support for the organization of elections in Niger. It aimed at strengthening democratic governance in Niger. In this respect, PAPEN was to be involved in activities such as civic education, communication/information, and awareness activities targeting voters. The introduction of the single paper ballot in the presidential election especially made clear the need to upgrade voter awareness activities.
Niger’s development partners contribute to the funding of the PAPEN project through a “common basket” which supports the electoral process program, managed by UNDP. Cooperation between the CENI and PAPEN has been difficult at times, especially on issues regarding the management of the PAPEN budget. This jurisdictional conflict almost compromised the second round of the presidential elections in 2011. Members of the local electoral committees threatened to boycott the runoff election if they did not receive payment for their work during the first round of the election. This difficult experience led the President of CENI to recommend that they “avoid entering agreements similar to those guiding PAPEN and which force the CENI and all its partners to deal with constraining and frustrating bureaucratic procedures” (General report of elections for the 2010-2011 transition period, p. 273).
Useful links and documentary resources
- Projet d’Appui au Processus Electoral au Niger (PAPEN) placé sous la tutelle du programme des Nations-Unies pour le Développement (PNUD): http://www.pnud.ne/fich09_PAPEN.htm
- Le Sahel, Numéro 8066, 27 janvier 2011. « Elections législatives et présidentielles 1er tour : Le Japon contribue pour 1 milliard de FCFA au PAPEN ». https://sites.clas.ufl.edu/sahelresearch/files/Doc-5_Le-Sahel-Numéro-8066-27-janvier-2011.pdf