Former minister Mohamed Bazoum was comfortably ahead in Niger’s weekend presidential election held against the backdrop of jihadist violence, partial results showed Wednesday.
Bazoum, the designated successor of outgoing President Mahamadou Issoufou, garnered more than half a million in a first batch of 1.2 million ballots, the Independent National Electoral Commission (CENI) said.
Around 7.4 million people were registered to vote in the presidential ballot on Sunday, which coincided with legislative polls.
The first batch of ballots represents about one-third of the poor West African country’s villages and municipalities.
Bazoum’s closest rival among 29 other contenders is former president Mahamane Ousmane with 168,000 votes, CENI said.
Campaigning was overshadowed by insecurity, with Niger battered by jihadists on its southwestern border with Mali as well as its southeastern frontier with Nigeria.
Hundreds have died in the past five years in Niger, and hundreds of thousands have fled their homes.
Bazoum, 60, a former interior and foreign minister, hopes to clinch victory in the first round, which would be a first in the former French colony.
The election is already historic in the sense that it could seal a first peaceful handover between elected presidents.
President Mahamadou Issoufou, who was elected in 2011 after the country’s last coup in 2010, is voluntarily stepping down after two five-year terms.
Bazoum campaigned on promises of emphasising security and education, especially for young girls in a country with the world’s highest fertility rate — 7.6 children per woman
Among the other candidates is Ibrahim Yacouba, a former foreign minister who came in fifth in 2016 and was also fifth in the partial results from Sunday’s vote.
He ruled out a first-round victory, saying: “The level of frustration among Nigeriens negates any chance of a knock-out blow. There will be a second round.”
He said he was concerned that the election had been “massively corrupted by the ruling party’s money.”
If there is a second round, it will be on February 20.