Issouf Sanogo / AFP via Getty Images
Seven workers from the Niger Election Commission were killed in a landmine explosion during election day that should bring about the country’s first democratic transition of power since it became an independent state.
Media reports say a vehicle belonging to the Nigerian election commission hit a mine in the rural community of Dargol. The vehicle was transporting election workers to polling stations in the southwest of the country.
“They went to leave the ballot boxes and the members of the polling station,” Harouna Mounkaila, vice-president of the commission, said Reuters. Three more workers were seriously injured, Mounkaila told the news service.
It is unclear whether the vehicle was intentionally targeted.
Dargol is in the western region of Tillaberi, where Niger, Burkina Faso and Mali meet. Armed groups with links to al-Qaeda and ISIS have strengthened their foothold in the region and launched frequent attacks, according to Al Jazeera.
Suspected Islamist militants killed at least 100 people in two cities in western Niger in January in the worst violence of recent times.
With concerns over regular attacks, the West African country has increased security for Sunday’s second round of ruling party candidates Mohamed Bazoum and former President Mahamane Ousmane. Al Jazeera reports that thousands of troops are deployed across the country.
Bazoum, a former interior and foreign minister, is highly favored to win Sunday’s vote. In the first round of December, Bazoum secured almost 40% of the vote. Ousmane, who was Niger’s first democratically elected president in 1993, received only 17%.
The decision of outgoing President Mahamadou Issoufou to resign voluntarily after two five-year terms has led to elections that will mark Niger’s first peaceful transfer of power between elected presidents. The country has experienced four coups, Reuters reports, since gaining independence from France in 1960.
“I am proud to be the first democratically elected president in our history to be able to pass the baton to another democratically elected president,” Issoufou said as he voted in Niger’s capital Niamey, according to Al Jazeera.
Bazoum, who is backed by the president, has vowed to continue Issoufou’s policy towards fight against Islamist extremism in the country. After the first round of voting, Bazoum also secured the support of two other candidates.
His rival Ousmane, who was overthrown in a military coup in 1996, has also pledged to address security issues, but has also promised a change in the management of Niger.
Ousmane refuses to accept Bazoum’s status as a leader, Reuters reports, stating that the difference in the first round is the result of fraud. Ousmane did not provide any evidence to substantiate his claim.