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Counting under way in Benin’s presidential elections

Pius Utomi Ekpei, AFP | Election officials count votes recorded after the presidential elections in Cotonou, Benin.

Election officials across Benin on Monday are collating ballots and counting votes a day after the country held a historic poll to choose a successor to outgoing President Thomas Boni Yayi.


Ballot papers are being collated and tallied across the tiny West African country following Sunday’s presidential election, which saw a record 33 candidates competing for power.

Reporting from Cotonu, Benin’s economic capital, FRANCE 24’s Georja Calvin-Smith said there were a few isolated incidents on Election Day, but the voting and ballot counting process so far appeared to be going smoothly.

“Despite all those concerns about getting the new voter registration cards out on time that pushed the election back a week, it does seem that Sunday’s vote did go quite well,” said Calvin-Smith. “There were some serious moments of concern. We heard of reports of an arrest linked to pre-stuffing ballot boxes, we heard some reports of foreigners trying to vote. I’ve personally seen a video doing rounds on social media of children, who are clearly under 10-years-old, saying they are 18, 19, all ready to vote in Sunday’s election. However all things did seem to come together quite nicely.”

In the lead-up to the vote, there were fears that the election would be marred by logistical difficulties.

The first round of voting had been due to take place on February 28, but was rescheduled due to delays in the production and distribution of voter cards.

Sunday’s successful election reinforces Benin’s credentials as a model of democracy in sub-Saharan Africa, a region that has recently seen numerous cases of longstanding leaders subverting terms limits.

Predient Yayi is stepping down after serving two consecutive terms as leader of the impoverished West African nation.

‘The King of Cotton’ vs ‘The Chicken King’

The 2016 presidential poll saw 33 candidates competing for power, including two of Benin's leading businessmen, Patrice Talon, 57, nicknamed "The King of Cotton", and "The Chicken King" Sébastien Ajavon. The two businessmen, widely viewed as frontrunners, are pitching for the top job after previously bankrolling presidential bids from the sidelines.

The leading candidate in the presidential race however remains Prime Minister Lionel Zinsou, a former economist and investment banker backed by both Yayi and the main opposition Democratic Renewal Party.

Zinsou has promised to restructure the economy, aid small businesses, improve access to micro-credit and create more jobs, especially for young people.

"I am proud of the conditions in which the campaign took place. It was a campaign without violence and an exercise in democracy," Zinsou said as he voted on Sunday.

Benin produces cotton, but its economy is flagging, in part because falling oil prices have hit neighbouring Nigeria, its largest trading partner. Key issues in the election include urgent job creation, tackling corruption, improving access to health and education.

Despite its problems, largely agricultural Benin, which is dwarfed by Nigeria to the east, has been seen as a relatively stable country in often turbulent West Africa.

An important centre of the voodoo religion that is now promoting itself as a major regional shipping hub, Benin introduced multi-party democracy in 1990 after nearly two decades of military rule.

Results of the 2016 presidential election are expected “between 24 to 48 hours after polls closed Sunday evening,” said Calvin-Smith, adding that “at this point it does look like the country is in store for a second round”.

Under Beninese law, if no candidate secures more than 50 percent of the vote in the first round, the country must hold a runoff.

(FRANCE 24 with REUTERS and AFP)

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