NIAMEY, Niger — Niger President Mahamadou Issoufou sought re-election Sunday, touting his record of defending the West African nation from Islamic extremists as he vied against 14 other candidates to capture a second five-year term.
The election unfolded without major incident, although the late arrival of voting materials caused many polling stations to stay open after their scheduled closing time. Niger had about 7.5 million voters registered for the election, and candidates were also competing for 171 legislative seats.
Niger, one of the world’s poorest countries, hosts French forces and American drones to combat the regional extremist threat. Issoufou’s supporters say he deserves a second term because of his success in preventing militants from setting up a base in their country as they have in neighboring Mali.
But Boko Haram has hit Niger’s southeast region for more than a year and recent high-profile attacks by al-Qaida’s North Africa branch in the capitals of Mali and Burkina Faso have raised fears that Niger’s capital of Niamey could soon be targeted.
“Niger needs peace to build on its development,” Issoufou said after voting in Niamey.
Provisional results are expected by Friday at the latest. Issoufou’s strongest opponents include former prime ministers Seyni Oumarou and Hama Amadou. If no candidate earns more than 50 percent of the vote, the top two candidates will head to a runoff.
Amadou has been detained since November for his alleged involvement in a baby-trafficking scheme, a charge he has dismissed as politically motivated. Amadou’s detention, along with the recent detentions of politicians, journalists and even a singer who released a song critical of Issoufou, have been cited by critics as evidence of Issoufou’s desire to silence opponents.