Niger voted on Sunday in a presidential run-off which incumbent President Mahamadou Issoufou is heavily favored to win after his jailed opponent was flown out of the country for medical reasons and an opposition coalition called for a boycott.
Issoufou, an ally of the West in its fight against insurgents in West Africa, won the first round comfortably last month with 48 percent of votes but failed to clinch the outright majority required to avoid a second round.
Voting officially opened at 7 a.m. (0700 GMT) though there were only a few early voters visible outside polling stations in the capital Niamey.
“I am against any boycott. I’ve just voted,” said Sadou Ide, who cast his ballot at the Nogare school in Niamey.
Late on Saturday, the regional governor of Niamey Hamidou Garda issued a ban on gathering outside polling stations for security reasons.
“All gathering is forbidden. Voters come, vote and then leave,” he said on state-owned television.
Security forces were posted at polling stations. They also patrolled the streets of Niamey and monitored the city’s main intersections.
Issoufou’s main opponent Hama Amadou, who came in second with 18 percent of the vote in the first round, was jailed in November in connection with a baby-trafficking scandal.
Hama, who has not been convicted, says he is innocent and claims the charges are politically motivated. He was flown to Paris just days before the second-round vote for treatment of a chronic health issue, a government spokesman said.
The Coalition for an Alternative (COPA), which unites about 20 political parties including Amadou’s MODEN, called for a boycott of the polls on Friday, claiming the process had been tainted by fraud.
Issoufou’s supporters called the boycott “absurd” and urged all Nigeriens to go out and vote.
Having taken office in April 2011, a year after a popular coup overthrew his predecessor Mamadou Tandja, Issoufou is seeking a second five-year term as president of the impoverished uranium producer.[Source: Reuters]