Some 7.4 million Nigeriens were registered to vote to elect legislators and the successor to President Mahamadou Issoufou.

Electoral commission officials carry ballot boxes outside a polling station in Niamey on December 27, 2020 during Niger's presidential and legislative elections.
Electoral commission officials carry ballot boxes outside a polling station in Niamey on December 27, 2020 during Niger's presidential and legislative elections. (AFP)

Niger has begun counting the votes from an election that is expected to lead to the West African nation's first transfer of power between two democratically elected presidents.

Results are expected in the coming days.

Niger voted on Sunday in presidential and legislative elections amid a growing threat from militants in the region.

A good turnout was seen in the capital throughout the day, said observers.

"Equipment was well installed and the first voter was able to vote," just after 8 am (local time) at the Diori school in Niamey, according to the head of the polling station there, Khadija Hassan. 

"Everything has been going normally."

Other voting centres in the capital reported successes as well, with Covid-19 restrictions in place.

READ MORE: Niger heads to polls in hope of first democratic transition

Model of democracy in Africa

Some 7.4 million Nigeriens were registered to vote to elect legislators and the successor to President Mahamadou Issoufou.

Issoufou, who has served two terms, is stepping down, paving the way for the first peaceful transfer of power between two elected presidents since Niger became independent from France in 1960. Niger has seen four coups since then.

Issoufou voted with his wife and the president of the National Assembly.

He said he hopes the election "will allow Niger to consolidate its status as a model of democracy in Africa and in the world."

More than 6,800 observers from various organisations are deployed around the country, he said.

"We are the bearer of an ambition, the ambition to modernise politics, the ambition to detribalise politics, the ambition to put policy around values and not on identity," he said. 

"The victory will belong to the Nigerien people."

READ MORE: Boko Haram militants kill over two dozen civilians in Niger

Major problems facing next leader 

A peaceful transfer would be significant not only in Niger but also in West Africa, where leaders recently have held on for disputed third terms in Guinea and Ivory Coast.

"It's extremely important for us because we are seen as the champion of the coup d'etat," said 50-year-old Massaoudou Abdou who voted in a school in the town of Maradi in southern Niger.

"In 60 years of independence, this is the first time," he said, referring to the passing of power from one elected president to another.

Niger's next president will have to deal with major problems including extremism, poverty, displacement, and corruption.

Attacks by militants have affected local elections for weeks. In the most recent incident, the Nigeria-based Boko Haram militants killed more than 28 people in Toumour in the Diffa region, the day before the vote.

Niger also faces increasing attacks from fighters linked to Daesh and Al Qaida. 

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

READ MORE: Boko Haram militants kill over two dozen civilians in Niger

Front runners

Former foreign affairs minister Mohamed Bazoum, the candidate of the current president’s Nigerian Party for Democracy and Socialism, is among the front runners in the election.

A teacher by training, Bazoum has promised to build boarding schools for girls to encourage them to stay in school longer, which he said would help reduce child marriage in a country with many teenage pregnancies.

Another candidate, retired General Salou Djibo, a former head of state who staged a coup in 2010, has said he is best placed to fight militancy.

Ibrahim Yacoubou, a former foreign affairs minister who was kicked out of the ruling party because of indiscipline, is campaigning against corruption.

But Bazoum's biggest competition comes from former President Mahamane Ousmane, who has the endorsement of opposition leader Hama Amadou, whose candidacy was rejected by the constitutional court because of a one-year prison sentence for charges of baby-trafficking. 

Amadou denies the charges, calling them politically motivated.

If no one candidate wins more than 50 percent, Nigeriens will vote in a second-round on February 21.

READ MORE: Boko Haram Timeline: From social welfare to international terrorism

Source: TRTWorld and agencies