Niger ruling party's Bazoum extends lead in presidential election

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FILE PHOTO: Bazoum walks with members of his delegation at the Boudouri site for displaced persons outside the town of Diffa

NIAMEY (Reuters) - Niger's ruling party candidate Mohamed Bazoum has extended his lead in the race for the presidency after Sunday's election, according to results from more than half of constituencies published by the electoral commission on Thursday.

Bazoum is leading a field of 30 candidates with more than 42% of the vote, results from 144 out of the total 266 constituencies showed, but he is still short of the 50% needed for victory in the first round.

His closest rival, former president Mahamane Ousmane, had 15.3% of the vote, the results showed.

Bazoum is considered a strong favourite to succeed President Mahamadou Issoufou, who is stepping down after two five-year terms. A smooth handover would mark the first transfer of power between two democratically elected presidents.

More results are expected in the coming days. A runoff is expected in February if no candidate wins with over 50%.

(Reporting by Boureima Balima; Writing by Bate Felix; Editing by Gareth Jones)