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Africa

Benin elects new parliament after disputed presidential poll

Text by News Wires

Latest update : 2011-04-30

Benin voted in legislative elections on Saturday with President Boni Yayi hoping to break the opposition's grip on parliament after his disputed re-election in March.

AFP- Turnout was light as Benin voted in parliamentary polls on Saturday following President Boni Yayi's disputed re-election last month.

"It is clear that people are not showing real zeal for this vote," the head of the electoral commission, Joseph Gnonlonfoun, told AFP.

He predicted a lower turnout than for the March 13 presidential polls in the small west African nation.

Yayi's main challenger, Adrien Houngbedji, alleged widespread fraud and claimed victory for himself following that election, which was marred by organisational problems.

After delays were reported at some polling stations around the economic capital Cotonou, most were up and running within the first hour of scheduled voting, an AFP journalist reported.

In the capital Porto Novo, some polling stations had still not opened by mid-morning and some voters could not find their names on the rolls.

Gnonlonfoun, whose Autonomous National Electoral Commission declared itself "ready" for Saturday's polling, said "steps" were being taken to remedy the problems.

Some 3.6 million people are eligible to vote to choose 83 lawmakers from among 1,600 candidates and around 20 parties and coalitions.

Yayi is seeking to end the opposition's majority in parliament. He and his allies control 34 seats compared to the opposition's 49.

The opposition, however, hopes the vote proves it maintains wide support throughout the former French colony of about 9.3 million people.

The coalition that backed Houngbedji, Build the Nation Union, wants voters to use the parliamentary elections "to sanction the regime that stole victory from us," said Lazare Sehoueto, an official with the coalition.

Yayi spokesman Marcel de Souza said their camp hoped to see an "overwhelming majority that would confirm the presidential election results."

That would allow the parliament to "pass the reforms necessary for the development of the country," he said.

Lucien Mehouenou, a 24-year-old student, said as he cast his ballot: "The rest of us have been left to our own devices. No law has been passed to contribute to our well-being. We must punish these politicians."

Another voter, Sophie Minanvoa, a 42-year-old sales clerk, said she hoped for a parliament that would hold genuine debate, saying she had heard "the same tune" for years.

Benin, perhaps best known as the heartland of voodoo, has an economy that relies on its port, cotton cultivation and commerce with its giant, oil-rich neighbour Nigeria. Poverty is widespread.

It was also the hardest-hit by devastating flooding in the region last year, according to the United Nations.

In Benin alone, floods destroyed 55,000 homes, killed tens of thousands of livestock and affected some 680,000 people, the UN said. At least 46 people were reported dead.

Yayi, a 58-year-old economist who worked at the Central Bank of West African States, was seen as a symbol of change when he first took office in 2006, but has since been weighed down by a series of corruption scandals.

The most prominent involved an alleged Ponzi scheme by a firm he was accused of assisting.

The scheme, reminiscent of the Bernard Madoff scandal in the United States, left scores of people in financial ruin and prompted calls for Yayi to be tried for allegedly favouring the company, ICC Services. Yayi denies any wrongdoing.

He defeated Houngbedji in the first round of the presidential vote by a score of 53 percent to 36 percent. Houngbedji alleged fraud and did not attend Yayi's swearing-in ceremony.

Houngbedji, who has run for president five times, was backed by many of the country's traditional political elites in the March election.

Polls were to close at 1600 GMT and official results are not expected for at least a couple days.

Date created : 2011-04-30

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