Polls have opened in Niger where more than 7 -million citizens began voting on Sunday in the second round of the presidential election.
Mohamed Bazoum, an ally of incumbent President Mahamadou Issoufou, received 39% of the vote in the first round of votes in December. He now faces a single opponent, Mahamane Ousmane who was president from 1993 to 1996.
The ruling Party for Democracy and Socialism candidate Mohamed Bazoum led in the first round on December 27 with 39.3% of the vote. Mahamane Ousmane, the candidate of the Democratic and Republic Rally, came second with 16.98%.
Outgoing President Mahamadou Issoufou cannot run for a third term according to the Nigerien Constitution.
Sixty-one-year-old Bazoum has held several top positions in Issoufou’s government including the foreign, interior and religious affairs ministries.
Ousmane, who is seventy-one-years old was Niger’s first democratically elected president and ousted in a 1996 military coup. He was also president of Niger’s National Assembly between 1999 and 2009.
Since 2006, he has headed the Parliament of the Economic Community of West African States, or ECOWAS, a regional political and economic union of 15 West African countries.
Voting began at 8 a.m. and will continue till 7 p.m. local time (0700GMT-1800GMT).
The Sahel nation of around 24 million is one of the poorest in the world, and its economy is also suffering due to the coronavirus pandemic.
The National Independent Electoral Commission has warned “troublemakers,” and invited “various actors to show civic sense and discernment” during the election such that “everything takes place in calm and serenity.”
The announcement came after the circulation of “false ballot papers,” the commission said.
Niger has been turned into something of a global military hub, hosting army bases with troops from France, the United States, Italy, Belgium, Germany and recently establishing defence agreements with Russia and Turkey.