Niger voters return to polls in second round for president

Polls opened Sunday morning in Niger for the second round of voting in the country’s presidential elections, after the 28 candidates in December’s vote failed to win an absolute majority.

Former foreign affairs minister Mohamed Bazoum, who received around 39% of the vote in the first round, is running against former president Mahamane Ousmane, who got nearly 17% of the vote, according to the National Independent Electoral Commission.

The winner of Sunday”s vote will succeed President Mahamadou Issoufou – the leader is stepping down after serving two terms, in accordance with Niger’s constitution.

Issoufou’s decision to respect the constitution has been widely hailed and paves the way for Niger’s first peaceful, democratic transfer of power since its independence from France in 1960. The West African nation has seen four coups.

Issoufou’s chosen successor is Bazoum, 71, a longtime Cabinet minister who is from Niger’s small ethnic Arab minority.

Of Niger’s 23 million people, around 7.4 million are registered to vote. In the parliamentary and presidential elections that took place on December 27, turnout was approximately 67%.

Niger’s next president will have to deal with major problems, including rising attacks linked to Islamic extremists.

In January at least 100 people were killed when extremists attacked two villages near the border with Mali.

Thousands of people have been killed and hundreds of thousands displaced despite the presence of thousands of regional and international troops.

The candidates are trying to entice voters through various campaign promises.

A teacher by training, Bazoum, who is of the ruling Nigerien Party for Democracy and Socialism, has promised to build boarding schools for girls to encourage them to remain in school longer, which he said would help reduce child marriage in a country with many teenage pregnancies.

But peace is what locals say they really want from the country’s next leader.

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