, NIAMEY, Niger, Feb 21 – Voters in Niger went to the polls Sunday in a presidential election in which the incumbent has promised a “knockout” blow to the opposition, one of whose top candidates is behind bars on baby-trafficking charges.
A vast desert nation blessed with an abundance of uranium, gold, coal and oil but reputedly the poorest on the planet, Niger is electing a head of state, as well as a new parliament, with outgoing President Mahamadou Issoufou hoping for a second five-year term.
A total of 7.5 million people are eligible to vote at 25,000 polling stations across the arid country on the edge of the Sahara Desert. The results are expected within five days.
In an interview with AFP on Thursday, Issoufou said he was “absolutely” confident of victory and predicted a runoff second-round vote would not be needed, pointing to his campaign slogan “Promises met”.
Issoufou said he had met his pledges on growth and infrastructure, while shoring up security in the face of attacks by jihadists from neighbouring Nigeria, Mali and Libya.
Known as the “Zaki” or “lion” in Hausa, the majority language in Niger, the 63-year-old mathematician and mining engineer turned politician, faces a total of 14 rivals including a particularly tough challenge from two former prime ministers and an ex-president.
Should he fail to win a first-round victory, his main rivals, who have accused him of planning to rig the result, have struck a deal to back whoever scores highest amongst them for the second round.