Niger election: Voters choose president in tense polls

Voters in Niger are going to the polls under tight security in presidential and parliamentary elections.

President Mahamadou Issoufou is hoping to secure a second term in the impoverished West African nation.

His main rival, Hama Amadou, is currently behind bars accused of trafficking babies, a charge he strongly denies.

The run-up to the vote has been marred by accusations of repression and a row over identification documents.

The authorities have announced that roughly 1.5 million people without ID papers will be able to cast their ballots by having witnesses vouch for them, in a move that was condemned by opposition leaders.

Niger is rich in natural resources, including uranium and oil, but is one of the poorest countries on earth, ranking last in the UN Human Development Index.

Crowded field

Most polling stations opened at about 08:00 local time (07:00 GMT) on Sunday. However, voting was delayed in some parts of the capital Niamey, owing to late delivery of ballot papers.

Nigerien President President Mahamadou Issoufou

Critics accuse President Mahamadou Issoufou of becoming increasingly authoritarian as the vote nears

Security was tightened amid fears of jihadist attacks by groups based in neighbouring Nigeria, Mali and Libya.

Meanwhile, President Issoufou says his government foiled a coup plot in December.

One of the candidates in Sunday’s presidential election, Ibrahim Hamidou, was arrested for casting doubt upon December’s alleged coup but was released in January against the wishes of state prosecutors.

Aside from Hama Amadou, a former Prime Minister, other well-known figures among the crowded field of 15 presidential candidates include Mahamane Ousmane, Niger’s first democratically elected president.

A group of young supporters of Niger's presidential candidate, Ibrahim Yacouba

A run-off will be held if no candidate secures an outright victory on Sunday.

Niger is seen as an important ally of Western powers in the fight against militant Islamists in the fragile Sahara region.

However, the country is far from stable. Corruption, food shortages and porous borders remain serious problems.

Source: BBC