Niger opposition candidate Hama Amadou, held in jail since November on shadowy baby-trafficking charges, will take part in the run-off race against President Mahamadou Issoufou, his lawyers said Thursday.
The head of the country’s national electoral commission (CENI) announced earlier that the elections would go ahead despite the withdrawal of the opposition coalition, known as COPA 2016.
The pullout was expected to include candidate Amadou, who has campaigned from behind bars throughout the race.
But his lawyer told AFP that Amadou never said he would withdraw.
“COPA has only said that they will suspend their participation in the process, but Hama will run in the election,” his lawyer said.
COPA 2016 announced Tuesday they would withdraw from the race, which is widely expected to hand incumbent president Issoufou a second five-year term, describing the vote as “unfair”.
The opposition has accused the government of fraud in the first round, claiming “unfair treatment between the two candidates” and complaining that the Constitutional Court has yet to officially confirm the first-round results.
The run-off vote — the first-ever for the impoverished country — is set for March 20, a date CENI chief Boube Ibrahim said had to be adhered to, citing “constitutional deadlines”.
Amadou, a former prime minister, has been in jail since November on baby-trafficking charges he says are politically motivated.
He nonetheless came second in the first round on February 21 with nearly 18 percent of the vote, while Issoufou took 48 percent.
The government maintains the polls were “free and transparent” while the African Union, which sent observers, said it was generally satisfied with the organisation of the vote, despite logistical glitches and delays.
A total of 7.5 million people were eligible to vote in the country, which lies on the edge of the Sahara desert, where security is a growing concern after attacks by jihadists from neighbouring Nigeria, Mali and Libya.
Niger’s Court of Cassation must rule on whether to go ahead with Amadou’s baby-trafficking trial on March 23, three days after the run-off ballot.