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Benin businessman Talon claims presidential run-off

AFP/Pius Utomi Ekpei | Patrice Talon waves to supporters during a campaign rally in the Ekpe district near Cotonou, in Benin, on March 18, 2016

Businessman and opposition leader Patrice Talon has won Benin's presidential election, claiming 65.39 percent of the vote in Sunday’s run-off poll, according to the country’s electoral commission.


Incumbent Prime Minister Lionel Zinsou conceded defeat earlier on Monday before the commission announced the official results.

"I called Patrice Talon tonight to congratulate him on his victory and wish him luck," Zinsou said in a statement on his Facebook page.

Some 4.7 million people were eligible to cast their ballots in the vote to elect a successor to Benin's outgoing President Thomas Boni Yayi.

He is bowing out after serving a maximum two five-year terms, marking him out from many African leaders who have tried to change their country's constitution to stay in power.

“There have been hardy celebrations across Benin’s commercial capital of Cotonou by supporters of Patrice Talon,” said FRANCE 24’s correspondent Katerina Vitozzi.

Zinsou finished first in the first round of elections held on March 6 with 27.1 percent of the vote, compared to 23.5 percent for Talon.

The prime minister, who was a candidate for Boni Yayi's Cowry Forces for an Emerging Benin (FCBE), was seen as the frontrunner with the support of most lawmakers in parliament.

But Talon, a 57-year-old entrepreneur who made his money in cotton and running Cotonou's port, billed himself as the authentic Beninese candidate and repeatedly attacked his opponent's dual French nationality.

Off-colour campaign

Zinsou, who attended an elite French university had been derided as a "yovo", or "the white man", during the campaign.

He also took a knock when 24 of the 32 other candidates who stood in the first round came out in support of the businessman, including third-placed Sebastien Ajavon, who won 22 percent of votes.

On Thursday, the two candidates took part in Benin's first-ever presidential debate in which Zinsou ran through his key manifesto pledges to cut poverty, and improve power supplies and healthcare.

But Talon harped on the record of Boni Yayi, whom he said had created "a banana republic" that had become "the laughing stock of the world", as well as questioning Zinsou's knowledge of Benin.

“From talking to people here, there is a sense that what cost Lionel Zinsou this competition was his close links to the outgoing president Boni Yayi,” Vitozzi said.

Talong also launched a string of personal attacks against Zinsou, accusing him of acting like "a governor in a land of savages".

He had portrayed himself as a big spender and a self-made man in his campaign, turning up for the first-round vote in a Porsche, white open-necked shirt, a fitted suit and sunglasses.

Taste for luxury

From humble beginnings in the coastal town of Ouidah, he rose to become one of the most powerful men in Beninese business and bankrolled Boni Yayi's successful 2006 and 2011 presidential campaigns.

But he fled to exile in France after being accused of masterminding an alleged plot to poison the president in 2012, and only returned last October after receiving a presidential pardon.

His success and taste for luxury have attracted support from many young Beninese, who hope he can create jobs and wealth on a national scale.

His major challenges will be tackling high youth unemployment, corruption and improving health and education in the country of 10.6 million people.

Diversifying an economy that largely relies on agriculture, trade and exports with its neighbour to the east, Nigeria, will also be high on the agenda.

(FRANCE 24 with AFP)

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