Niger will choose between its outgoing leader's anointed successor and a former president running for the fifth time in a presidential election runoff on Sunday.
The second-round vote is hoped to bring about the first peaceful handover of power between democratically elected leaders in the history of the coup-prone West African country.
The right-hand man
Mohamed Bazoum, a former interior minister and right-hand man to outgoing President Mahamadou Issoufou, is the favourite, after winning 39.3 percent of the first round on December 27.
An old friend of Issoufou, who is voluntarily stepping down after two five-year terms, Bazoum long stayed in the president's shadow, taking on nuts-and-bolts tasks such as managing the Nigerien Party for Democracy and Socialism (PNDS), which they jointly founded.
Born in 1960 at Bilabrine in the southeastern Diffa region, Bazoum is a member of Niger's ethnic Arab minority, which some opposition figures seized on to accuse him of having "foreign" origins.
The smear riled him during the campaign, but ahead of Sunday's vote his entourage said these are "small debates" and pointed out his rival's father is from Chad.
Bazoum studied philosophy at the University of Dakar in Senegal, where he found his roots in the political left, and eventually returned to Niger to become a schoolteacher.
From trade union activity, Bazoum took up a political career alongside Issoufou in the 1990s, when they formed the PNDS.
In 2011, he masterminded Issoufou's first election victory and reportedly went on to handle all sensitive cases, being consulted on matters ranging from diplomacy, the economy and national security.
He served as foreign minister before taking up the interior portfolio, then stepped down six months ahead of the election to campaign.
The country has been bathed in pink -- the colour of his party -- with pink leaflets and billboards in towns and cities before Sunday's vote.
Bazoum is running as the continuity candidate, perhaps a risky tactic in a country regularly ranked as the world's poorest where jihadist attacks have surged in recent years.
Standing on Issoufou's record could also be dicey due to the numerous corruption scandals that undermined his presidency.
However, "his name was not mentioned in the major corruption scandals which have often hit the regime," said Ibrahim Yahya Ibrahim of the International Crisis Group (ICG) thinktank.