Impoverished Niger votes in presidential elections expected to be won by incumbent Mahamadou Issoufou, who is accused of repressing opposition ahead of the poll. Key opponent Hama Amadou was jailed two months ago after a year-long exile.
An international election watchdog, the National Democratic Institute (NDI), warns that relations between government and the opposition have deteriorated over disagreements regarding the electoral calendar and voter registration.
Voters will also elect members of a bigger unicameral legislature: the new parliament will have 171 seats - up from 113.
Amadou, a former parliamentary speaker, has been jailed for his alleged role in a baby-trafficking scandal. He denies the charges, according to French newswire AFP, and describes them as a ploy to keep him sidelined from the election. The defendants are accused of taking illegal custody of around 30 babies born to women in private Nigerian clinics that offer infants for sale.
Fifteen candidates have been cleared to run for the presidency. The other main candidates are chief opposition leader Seini Oumarou, former president Mahamane Ousmane and ex-planning minister Amadou Boubacar Cisse.
Nearly a quarter of Niger's potential voters - 1.5 million people - will be barred from casting ballots in the election after politicians failed to agree on a system for registering them, the government announced. Reuters, which reported the story, explains that the Independent National Electoral Commission had proposed a system of using witnesses to vouch for voters who lacked documentation to prove their identity, but politicians failed to approve the measure.
Voters in the landlocked country are reported to be worried about religious extremism and insecurity at home and among its neighbours. NDI observes that Niger fends off threats and armed conflicts along its entire border. Nigeria - and Boko Haram - lie to Niger's south. Mali, Chad and Libya lie on its other borders.
As well as its own extreme problems with food shortages, Niger is struggling to feed and shelter more than 150,000 internally-displaced persons and refugees from Chad and Nigeria.
The United Nations rates vast and arid Niger as one of the world's least-developed nations. A high rate of illiteracy and disease remain stubborn challenges, according to reports. The country is betting on increased oil exploration and gold mining to help modernize its economy.
Date written/update: 2016-01-27