6 March 2016

Benin: Tight Race Expected As Nation Votes for New President

Photo: Le Pays
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Polling stations have opened in Benin, as the country elects a new president to replace the incumbent Thomas Boni Yayi. The contest is expected to be a close one, with 33 candidates in contention for the post.

Voters in Benin headed to polling booths on Sunday, with a record number of candidates vying to become the country's next president.

The contest was expected to be closer than ever in one of Africa's most solid democracies, with the frontrunner being Prime Minister Lionel Zinsou.

The 61-year-old, a Franco-Beninese financier and former speechwriter for French ex-Prime Minister Laurent Fabius, has been seen as Boni Yayi's chosen successor.

However, Zinsou's dual nationality may prove a disadvantage, with some claiming he has been parachuted in to serve the interests of the former colonial power.

Backing from big parties

Zinsou - who last December survived a helicopter crash - is standing for the ruling Cowry Forces for an Emerging Benin party, and he also has the backing of the main opposition Democratic Renewal Party.

Other significant contenders include cotton tycoon Patrice Talon, who has been listed as Africa's wealthiest man, and the food industry magnate Sebastien Ajavon. Both men are staking their claim for the job after previously bankrolling other candidates.

Former premier Pascal Koupaki and ex-International Monetary Fund official Abdoulaye Bio Tchane - dubbed ABT by supporters - are also in the running.

Looming economic challenge

Tasks that lie ahead of the winner would include strengthening the economy of the largely agricultural nation, whose main exports include cashew nuts and shea butter.

Some 4.6 million people are eligible to vote. The elections having been postponed by a week because of logistical problems. Should no candidate win an outright majority, the election will go to a runoff.

Elected by a vast majority in 2006, Boni Yayi - who has now served the maximum of two five-year terms - vowed to stop deep-rooted corruption in several sectors such as the cotton industry and shipping. However, his rule has been tainted by embezzlement and bribery scandals.

The Netherlands last year suspended aid to Benin after the disappearance of 4 million euros earmarked for drinking water schemes.

rc/tj (AFP, dpa, Reuters)

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