The Electoral System
The political regime
After 33 years under a one-party system, Niger attempted its first democratic experiment in 1993 in the wake of the Sovereign National Conference (a national dialogue to create democratic institutions), that took place July 29 through November 3, 1991. The Constitution of the Third Republic was adopted by referendum, on December 26, 1992. On February 27, 1993, the Alliance of the Forces of Change (comprised of the CDS, PNDS, and ANDP) elected Mahamane Ousmane as Head of State, the first from the Hausa ethnic group. Ever since, the political history of Niger has been characterized by a situation in which democratic regimes alternate with military coups. This poses the question of how deep the tenets of democratic rule have penetrated Niger. However, the back and forth movement between democratic regimes and military coups produced several iterations of political reform which led to the overall improvement of the electoral process in Niger.
The electoral system
The election of the President of the Republic: Article 109 of the Electoral Code states that the President of the Republic shall be elected by direct, free and equal universal suffrage, that the ballot is to be secret and conducted in a single plurality system with runoff, with the term in office set at 5 years. The candidate who receives an absolute majority of votes in the first round is declared the winner. If no candidate meets this condition, 21 days after the proclamation of the results of the first round, a runoff is organized between the two candidates who rank first and second in the first round of the election. Runoff elections tend to lead to alliances and “political haggling.” Since 1993, the country has always experienced a runoff in elections, as no candidate has managed to obtain an absolute majority. The President can be reelected only once.
No candidate is to withdraw 72 hours after the proclamation of the results of the first round by the Constitutional Court. However, in case of death, withdrawal, or incapacity of one of the two candidates, the candidate will be replaced by the next candidate ranked in priority order on the basis of the results of the first round of elections. In case of death of the two candidates, a new election will be called.
The electoral system for legislative elections: The system of single plurality with runoff was practiced in the 1960s during the one-party system for legislative elections. It was a system of national lists to elect 50 members of the National Assembly; opposition parties were silenced during that period. Today, a proportional system is used. It is worth remembering that Niger has experimented with two types of proportional systems. The proportional system with the highest remainder was used in the 1993 and 1995 elections. It was introduced after the National Conference met, and its goal was to reduce the power of the dominant party and to enable opposition parties to be represented at the National Assembly. This system made it possible to have 12 new political parties represented in the National Assembly, but it was not conducive to government stability. No party won a majority in the Assembly, and multiparty coexistence in the Assembly led to several problems, which eventually ended in a military coup in 1996. In order to correct the deficiencies of this system, and to ensure the existence of a stable majority in parliament, a proportional system with the highest average was adopted for legislative elections. Until 2010, this institutional change led to a reduction of the number of parties represented at the Assembly. Today, the election of the members of the National Assembly in Niger is conducted through universal, free, and secret direct elections (Article 115). According to the electoral system (Article 116):
- If there is one seat to be filled in a constituency, the electoral system will be single plurality, with one round. The winner is the candidate who has the relative majority of votes. In case of equality, a runoff is organized on the 21st day following the proclamation of the results of the first round of the election, between the candidates who arrived first.
- If more than one seat need to be filled in a constituency, the election will be by proportional representation with open lists, without mixing, or preferential vote, and the method of the highest average will be used.
The allocation of seats by proportional representation and on the basis of the highest remainders allocated as many seats as possible to a party list, based on the number of times that the electoral quota can be divided into the votes the party received. The quota is obtained by dividing the number of votes cast by the number of seats to be filled in the constituency. The average is determined for each list by dividing the total number of votes obtained and the total number of seats it would obtain if it were increased by the remaining seat. The party list that obtains the highest average is allocated a seat. When there are two or more seats remaining, this procedure is repeated until all seats are allocated. If several lists obtain the same average for a remaining seat, it will be allocated to the party list that received the largest number of votes.
Members of the National Assembly are elected for a five-year term, and they may be reelected (Article 117).
The election of the members of regional and municipal councils: According to the provisions of Article 135 of the Electoral Code, members of regional and municipal councils are elected by universal, direct, free, equal, and secret universal suffrage. The electoral system is proportional representation, with the highest average and a system of open party lists. Regional councils are a new electoral structure in Niger; however, it should be noted that the stakes are not as high as those of local and or legislative elections, at least for the time being. Regional counselors are new in Niger’s electoral landscape. Each list of candidates must include as many candidates as there are seats allocated to the constituency (Article 136).
Members of regional and municipal councils are elected for a 5 year term and can be reelected (Article 137). There are no legal limitations to the terms of municipal and regional counselors. At the expiration of the terms, all regional, municipal and “arrondissement” (small municipalities) councils are entirely renewed across the country (Article 138). In case of nullification of the electoral process, new elections are called within two months (Article 139).
The debate over electoral systems has not fundamentally changed since 1992. At one point there were discussions to introduce an electoral system based on the highest remainders, but they were not fruitful.
In Niger, it is Article 42 of the Electoral Code that determines electoral constituencies. Besides the entire national territory, including the diplomatic and consular missions, which are the constituencies for presidential elections and referendums, Niger also has regional and special constituencies for the election of members of the National Assembly, which are defined by law. There are additional constituencies for the election of regional and municipal counselors.
For legislative elections, the number of seats available per region and per special constituency is defined by law. Two criteria are used for the allocation of the seats: a demographic criterion (population size) and the composition of ethnolinguistic (ethnic) minorities. In ordinary constituencies the law states that one seat in the National Assembly is allocated for 100,000 inhabitants. One seat is also allocated to each special constituency. Special constituencies have been created to take into account the vote of certain categories (minorities) of people, to make sure they are represented at the national Assembly. In reality, this objective is not always met. It has been noted that in some special constituencies, the ethnic minorities targeted by the law are not represented at the National Assembly. For example, in Torodi, the Gourmantche ethnic group is the minority group, but the member of the Assembly representing the area is always from the Peul ethnic group. For local elections, the number of seats per council is determined by a presidential decree issued during a meeting of the Cabinet.
Useful links and documentary resources
- Official website of the Government of Niger, with other links to other state institutions : http://www.gouv.ne/index.php?id_page=2
- Official website of the National Assembly : http://www.assemblee.ne/
- The Constitution of the Republic of Niger (Constitutions of the IV, V, VI, et V Republics): http://cour-constitutionnelle-niger.org/loi_organique.php
- The electoral Code of Niger (Ordonnance n° 2010-96 du 28 décembre 2010, portant code électoral): https://sites.clas.ufl.edu/sahelresearch/files/Doc-1_Code-électoral-2010-Niger.pdf http://www.elections2012.sn/images/stories/CE2012.pdf