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International community wants upcoming Benin elections delayed

Text by News Wires

Latest update : 2011-03-04

The United Nations and African Union have backed calls by Benin’s opposition to postpone the presidential election scheduled for Sunday, following allegations that the current electoral list excludes a million voters.

AFP - The United Nations and African Union called Thursday for a second postponement of Benin's presidential vote this weekend amid allegations that a million people have been left off the electoral roll.
              
A high-level joint delegation, which also included West African bloc ECOWAS, made the call for a delay after holding discussions with President Boni Yayi, his main opponent in Sunday's vote and electoral officials.
              
Their backing for a postponement came as the opposition claimed more than a million people had been left off the voter roll, which includes some 3.5 million names, and with electoral cards still being distributed.
              
Protests were held earlier in the day in the main city of Cotonou, with demonstrators demanding a postponement to ensure the election is credible.
              
"The delegation expressed its support for a postponement by a few days of the presidential election to a date that is in line with the deadlines laid out by the constitution," said a statement read out at a news conference.
              
"This postponement would in particular allow the finalisation of the process of electoral card distribution, the completion of necessary arrangements by the (electoral commission) and its regional and local divisions, (and) the designation and training of all voting station agents."
              
Said Djinnit, special representative of the UN secretary general for West Africa, read the statement to journalists on behalf of the delegation.
              
The delegation also included African Union Commissioner for Peace and Security Ramtane Lamamra and ECOWAS commission president James Victor Gbeho.
              
The election has already been delayed once -- it was originally set for February 27 -- and the government has warned that another postponement risks a constitutional crisis in the West African nation.
              
Yayi's current term ends April 6 and a new president must be sworn in by that time. A runoff vote is to be held two weeks after the first round if no candidate gains an absolute majority -- a situation many observers view as likely.
              
Part of the law also says the first-round vote must be held 30 days before the end of the president's term, but legal maneuvering was already underway to circumvent the rule, including at parliament on Thursday.
              
Earlier Thursday, demonstrators gathered at three different intersections at rush hour in Cotonou, chanting "we want to vote" and tying up traffic by sitting in the road, witnesses and organisers said.
              
In one area, motorcycle taxis tried to zip around the crowd as about 200 people held banners urging the government to postpone the vote to avoid an "unnecessary crisis".
              
A similar number of people gathered at two other locations and remained there for between 30 minutes and about an hour, organisers said.
              
"We have the right to vote," Felbert Satowaonu, 19, said as he marched toward one of the intersections.
              
Authorities last week used tear gas to break up a demonstration over the electoral roll, but no such incidents were reported on Thursday.
              
Yayi will be seeking a second term in the election, but faces a strong challenge from his main opponent Adrien Houngbedji, who is supported by many of the traditional political elites in the former French colony.
              
The president, a former banker, was seen as a symbol of change when he took office in 2006 in the country of some 9.2 million people, but has since been weighed down by corruption scandals.
              
The other major candidate in the race is Abdoulaye Bio Tchane, a former president of the West African Development Bank.
 

Date created : 2011-03-04

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