January 19, 2011 / 4:55 PM / 9 years ago

Candidates seek new election body for Niger poll

NIAMEY (Reuters) - Niger’s 10 presidential rivals have asked the ruling military junta to replace the electoral commission just days ahead of a January 31 election meant to restore civilian rule.

Members of the military junta stand outside a building in Niger's capital Niamey, February 21, 2010. REUTERS/Emmanuel Braun

The request raises the possibility of delays to the election and comes after municipal polls managed by the commission this month were dogged by so many problems that a leading political party asked for the results to be thrown out.

“The presidential candidates have called for the dissolution of the electoral commission, and in this context wrote on Tuesday to the head of state,” Mamoudou Abdoulaye, spokesman for the electoral commission, told Reuters on Wednesday.

“The candidates complained about the difficulties that marred the local elections,” he said.

Niger, a leading uranium exporter, has been run by soldiers since a February 2010 coup toppled President Mamadou Tandja, who had drawn widespread condemnation for altering the constitution to extend his rule and broaden his powers.

The junta, led by General Salou Djibo, has promised to leave power by April this year after a likely second round of presidential elections in March.

Opponents of Tandja dominated the January 11 local and municipal elections, but delays and disorganization prevented many Nigeriens from voting and led Tandja’s former political party, and others, to ask for the results to be scrapped.

The junta has said this is impossible after the results were ratified by the Constitutional Court.

A junta official was not immediately available to comment on whether the election commission would be replaced, or what effect that might have on the timing of the presidential poll.

The European Union said on Wednesday it would deploy an observer mission for the vote, which it said was “an essential step in the transitional process toward democracy in Niger.”

The election will follow those in fellow West African states Guinea and Ivory Coast, where a dispute over the winner of a November 28 poll has threatened to rekindle the top cocoa grower’s 2002-03 civil war.

A poor desert nation, Niger’s resource riches have drawn billions of dollars worth of investments, mainly from French nuclear giant Areva.

China National Petroleum Corp is also developing oil fields in the southeast.

Editing by Richard Valdmanis

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