NIAMEY (Reuters) - Voting ended in Niger on Sunday in a presidential run-off which President Mahamadou Issoufou looks more than likely to win after the opposition called a boycott and its jailed leader was flown out of the country for medical reasons last week.
Issoufou, an ally of the West in its fight against Islamist 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.
“I am against any boycott. I’ve just voted,” said Sadou Ide, who cast his vote soon after polling stations opened at the Nogare school in Niamey.
Southern Niger, which borders Nigeria, has been the target of frequent deadly raids by Islamist Boko Haram militants. It also shares borders with Burkina Faso and Mali to the west, where al Qaeda-linked groups are active. Libya, home to Islamic State affiliates, lies on its northern border.
Speaking after casting his vote on Sunday, Issoufou appealed to Nigeriens to stay the course amid the growing menace from regional militants.
“A single term in office is not enough to overcome all the challenges, in particular I am thinking of the security challenges,” he said. “We need a sacred union ... We must remained united.”
Late on Saturday, the regional governor of Niamey, Hamidou Garda issued a ban on gathering outside polling stations, citing 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.
Amadou, 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.
As polling stations closed in the early evening and elections workers began counting ballots, observers said no major incidents had been reported though turnout had been low.
“There weren’t crowds like we saw during the Feb. 21 first round, and that’s down to the respect for the boycott order,” said Moustache Kak, an elections observer with the West African Network for Peacebuilding.
Provisional results are due in the next few days.
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.
Writing by Joe Bavier; Editing by Louise Ireland