Some 7.4 million people have registered to vote for the new president, the ballot coinciding with parliamentary elections.
Niger is voting in an election that should lead to the first transfer of power between two democratically elected presidents in a country reeling from violence.
Former Interior Minister Mohamed Bazoum, the ruling party’s candidate, is the big favorite to succeed President Mahamadou Issoufou, who is resigning after two five-year terms at the head of the largely desert country of 23 million people.
Bazoum, 60, pledged continuity with Issoufou’s policies, while also pledging to eliminate pervasive corruption.
He faces 29 other candidates, who hope to force a second round by denying him an outright majority of votes.
Hama Amadou, who finished second in the last election, was barred from running due to a criminal conviction, leaving the opposition without an obvious figurehead until last week, when his party called on his supporters to turn to Mahamane Ousmane, who was president from 1993 to 1996.
About 7.4 million people have registered to vote for the new president, a race that coincides with parliamentary elections.
The campaign has been overshadowed by the issue of security in a country that has suffered repeated attacks near its borders with Mali and Burkina Faso by fighters linked to al-Qaeda and ISIS (ISIS). Near its south-eastern border with Nigeria, it faces attacks from Boko Haram.
Hundreds of soldiers and civilians were killed last year.
The economic situation is also critical. Over 40% of the population lives in extreme poverty, and the COVID-19 pandemic has slowed growth at a breakneck pace, exacerbating the effects of climate change and low prices for its main export commodity, uranium .
A peaceful transfer of power would be a milestone for Niger, which has seen four coups d’état since gaining independence from France in 1960.
The army was deployed for Sunday’s vote, officials said.
“Sporadic attacks will not prevent the conduct of the elections,” a spokesperson said Thursday.