The Party System and Conditions of Candidacy
The political party system in Niger is determined by the Political Parties Charter. Three charters have been passed in (1991, 1999 and 2010). The Charter defines the rules and fundamental principles that govern the activities of political parties. The last Charter was established under the military transition regime by ordinance 2010-84, on December 16, 2010.
The Charter determines the conditions under which political parties can be created, organized, and funded. It also details the operations of parties, their access to public media, and how they may create their own media. The Charter defines the electoral functions of parties, their relationships with the State and with foreign entities, as well as the conditions under which they can form coalitions, merge, and dissolve. Finally, the Charter determines the sanctions applied on parties if they do not fulfill their obligations.
Political parties are considered non-profit associations which, on the basis of the Constitution, bring together citizens of Niger around a political platform or a vision for citizens to participate in electoral competitions and political life through democratic and peaceful means. They have the obligation to conduct civic information and awareness activities for their members and the public. They are to preserve national unity, democracy, rule of law, peace, security, and the economic, social and cultural development of Niger (Article 2).
Political parties are created by their founding members by a decision taken during an assembly where the by-laws and the mission statement of the party are adopted (Article 3). A declaration indicating the creation of the party must be filed by delivering a set of required documents at the Ministry of Interior (Ministry in charge of national security and administrative affairs). A certificate acknowledging receipt of the declaration with a registration number and date is issued to the party officer fulfilling this procedure (Article 4).
There are restrictions which apply to the creation of political parties, these restrictions are found in Article 57 of the Charter, which states: “All political parties or coalitions of political parties their organizations or activities are prohibited from pursuing objectives that include or promote (1) sectarianism, nepotism, fanaticism, and community-based discrimination; (2) membership exclusively based on religion, language or to a particular region; (3) membership based on gender, ethnicity or professional category. Hate speeches and insults targeting specific regions, ethnic groups, gender, or religions are also prohibited and punished by provisions of the Criminal Code.”
Today in Niger there are 65 political parties that can be divided in three categories:
- MRN (Movement for Niger’s Renaissance) which includes 35 political parties
- ARN (Alliance for National Reconciliation) which includes 18 political parties
- An independent group which includes 12 political parties.
Political coalitions are common in Niger. Since the 1992 elections, there have always been party alliances around the ruling party (often referred to as the ruling movement) and alliances around the main opposition party.
The weight of political parties
Concerning the dominant parties on the political scene, take the case of two of the country’s first political parties, SAWABA and RDA, which currently are not represented in the National Assembly. In contrast, parties such as MODEMFA, LUMANA, TABBAT, RDP, JAMA’A all have elected members at the National Assembly, despite very recently entering politics on the national stage. This is in part the result of the significant party fragmentation that has occurred in Niger over the years.
The best indicator for appreciating the weight of political parties is their level of representation at the National Assembly and in municipal councils. There were 23 party lists, including one of independent candidates (TELE), competing in the January 2011 legislative elections. These elections, which signaled the end of the military transition, saw the parties contest 113 seats in the National Assembly. They produced the following results: Mahamadou Issoufou’s PNDS won 39 seats; MNSD won 26 seats; MODEM FA, led by Hama Amadou, a dissident MNSD, won 24 seats; late Moumouni Djermakoye’s ANDP won 8 seats; RDP, the party of the former President of the Republic, Baré Maïnassara (assassinated in 1999 in a military coup) won 7 seats; and finally, the UDR won 6 seats. Out of the 8 special constituencies, PNDS obtained 5 seats, against 2 for MODEM FA and 1 for MNSD.
As for the election of the 3,493 municipal counselors, the turnout rate was 45.5%. In all, 26 parties competed across the country. After the counting of the votes, PNDS arrived first with 969 elected counselors, followed by MNSD with 782 elected counselors. MODEM FA had 657 counselors elected, CDS had 403 counselors elected, RSD, a party born from the partition of CDS, had 169 counselors elected, and ANDP had 168 counselors elected.
If there are officially 65 registered parties in Niger, the 2010-2011 elections showed that in reality only four parties competed for the various offices. These four parties, which achieved the best rankings in the last local elections, had 2811 counselors elected, representing 80.73% of the total of seats. The same model is visible at the National Assembly, where 4 parties obtained 97 of the 113 seats, representing 85.84% of the total of seats.
Niger’s Electoral Code determines the conditions under which lists of candidates are examined, validated, and publicized. The Transitional Constitutional Court examines and validates candidacies for legislative and presidential elections; these candidacies are presented through the Ministry of Interior. Niger’s legislation does not include discriminatory or unduly cumbersome procedures; it is in compliance with international norms in this domain. The procedures are mainly about electoral costs and their reimbursement which are governed by adequate measures in an attempt to prevent a plethora of candidates, especially in presidential elections.
For the January 31, 2011 legislative elections, the deadline for registering candidacies was set on December 17. Given the fact that many parties were late, the Ministry of Interior extended the deadline, and the candidacies were delivered to the Transitional Constitutional Court on December 24, 2010. Article 176 of the Electoral Code states that the Court has up to 21 days to render a decision on the eligibility of candidates. The Court’s decision 002/11/CCT/ME of March 13, 2011 complied with that requirement.
However, some political parties ignored or were negligent in the way they applied prevailing laws regarding the creation of their lists of candidates, leading to their rejection by the Court. Thus, in the January 31, 2011 elections, 67 out of 141 registered lists were rejected by the Transitional Constitutional Court. No legal solution was possible to resolve the list crisis; there is no possibility to appeal against the rulings of Transitional Constitution Court.
The lists were mainly rejected for lack of compliance with provisions of the Constitution (Article 84) and of the Electoral Code (Article 120), which mandate that at least 75% of candidates on a list have the BEPC diploma (end of middle school diploma) or its equivalent, and the number of candidates who do not fulfill this condition should not exceed 25% of the list. These conditions apply to the entire list of candidates, regardless of the fact that the candidate is principal or alternate.
It should be mentioned that the requirement of the BEPC, a middle school diploma, was a major change for a country where the school enrollment rate is very low. This innovation demonstrated concern for the value legislators place on education as well as a desire to create a new image of the National Assembly through members who can read and understand the laws that they pass. The introduction of the level of education as an eligibility criterion created a heated debate among political activists dominated by traders as well as among certain sectors of civil society that saw this reform as an obstacle for a majority of citizens of Niger to express their rights.
There was also another provision of the law that changed the face of the National Assembly. Many business retailers managed to get elected as members of the National Assembly “to benefit from public contracts,” but the law prohibited all members of the Assembly “during their term in office from having access directly, or through a third party, to public contracts of the State or it institutions.”
Women have always been underrepresented in Niger’s politics, not only because of cultural pressures, but also because very few women reach high positions in decision-making bodies. In order to reverse this trend, a law was passed to impose gender-based quotas. Article 3 of the 2000-008 law of June 7, 2000, along with the decree 2001-056, which specifies the conditions of enforcement of the above-mentioned law, mandate that during legislative elections lists of candidates must include the two genders. A quota representing not less than 10% of elected candidates of each list is mandated. Each party or coalition of independent candidates is mandated to round as necessary the proportion of elected candidates of one gender or the other, after obtaining 3 elected candidates, in favor of the gender representing the 10% quota. Since the electoral system is based on proportional representation with open lists, political parties made necessary internal adjustments before presenting their lists of elected candidates to the Transitional Constitutional Court.
Article 18 of the Political Parties Charter requires that political parties “promote gender and youth.” In addition, it is prohibited to political parties or coalitions of political parties to base their organization or to pursue objectives that include “the belonging to one gender” (Article 57 of the Political Parties Charter). The final results of the legislative elections confirmed that out of the 113 elected members of the new National Assembly, there are 14 women, which represents 13% of the total number of elected members. The number of members who do not have a middle school diploma, BEPC, will total 27 in the National Assembly, exactly the maximum of 25% permitted under Article 18).
Conditions for candidacies to elections
An independent candidate running in a presidential election must have 20,000 voters to support his/her candidacy. These voters must be registered and reside in at least five regions, including Niamey. Candidates to presidential elections undergo a moral background check after registration of their candidacy. An independent candidate for legislative election must have his/her candidacy endorsed by at least 1% of registered voters of the constituency where he/she is running (Article 43 of the Electoral Code).
Regarding regional and municipal elections, a list of independent candidates is only valid if it fulfills a number of conditions. The party must present a list of voters having endorsed the list and representing 1% of the registered voters of the constituency or for an election opened to lists of candidates only, present written proof from the political party having endorsed the list, with the distinctive logos of the party (Article 44 of the Electoral Code).
The declaration of candidacy must be registered. The formality of the declaration of candidacy varies with the type of the election. It can be short for legislative and presidential elections where it takes place between the Ministry of Interior and the Constitutional Court. On the other hand, the formalities may be long for regional and municipal elections, taking into account the various phases before completing the validation of candidacy, the various phases involve, the prefect, the governor and the head of the regional court. The processing of the candidacy, from the beginning to its validation, is 49 days.
Candidacy application must be submitted to the Ministry of Interior, at least 50 days before the presidential elections, and at least 45 days before the legislative elections. The Ministry of Interior then closes the list of candidates and sends it to the Constitutional Court. The Court must rule on the eligibility of candidates within 48 hours. Candidacy applications sent to the State administrative headquarters of the Department (largest administrative unit below a region), or the Region in which the electoral constituency is located must be submitted at least 75 days before the election, for regional and municipal elections. The prefect (highest state authority in a Department) examines these applications within 10 days before sending them to regional state authorities; the governors (heads of the Regions) receive, process, and transmit the candidacies within 7 days to the regional courts. The regional courts rule on the eligibility of the candidates within 30 days.
Deposit paid to participate in elections
Candidates contribute to the financing of elections by paying a deposit. This deposit which is a contribution to electoral costs must be paid at the public treasury before the registration of candidacies. The amounts are as follows:
- 20 million CFA (40 thousand $) for a candidacy to presidential elections;
- 250,000 CFA (500 $) per candidate for legislative elections, per constituency “to contribute to the defraying of electoral costs;”
- 10,000 CFA (20 $) per candidate for the election of counselors, as contribution to the payment of electoral costs.
In case of the rejection of a candidate, 75% of the deposit is to be reimbursed. Candidates to presidential elections who obtain at least 5% of the votes can be reimbursed up to 25% of the deposit. The remaining 75% represents their contribution to the State’s electoral expenses. Costs related to participating in an election, or any other related costs, are not reimbursed by the State.
Useful links and documentary resources
- The Charter of political parties (1991): https://sites.clas.ufl.edu/sahelresearch/files/11-Niger_Charte-des-Partis_1991_fr.pdf
- The Charter of political parties (1999): https://sites.clas.ufl.edu/sahelresearch/files/12-Niger_Charte-des-Partis_1999_fr.pdf
- The Charter of political parties : https://sites.clas.ufl.edu/sahelresearch/files/13-Niger_Charte-des-Partis_2010_fr.pdf