Sunday, March 6, 2016

Benin begins voting for president among a wide selection of candidates

After a week delay for distribution of voting cards, Benin voters began voting today for president. The voting has been calm - Benin has peacefully elected three new presidents (and two incumbents) since it democratized twenty-five years ago.

Benin's electoral system is modeled on the French system - if no candidate wins a majority in the first round, there will be a run-off between the top two candidates. Since the country re-introduced multiparty presidential elections in 1991, four of five presidential elections have resulted in a run-off. The exception was 2011, when Yayi Boni won re-election in the first round with 53% of the vote.

With no incumbent running and some 33 candidates competing, it seems like the first round will be followed by a runoff.

The frontrunner is Lionel Zinsou, who is Yayi Boni's successor, current prime minister, and endorsed by Adrien Houngbedji, who has placed second or third in the past four presidential elections.

Other prominent candidates include:
  • Patrice Talon, a businessman who used to be an ally of the president, and helped finance his election campaigns. Talon says he split with the president because Yayi wanted to run for a third term. 
  • Abdoulaye Bio Tchane, former president of the West African Development Bank (BOAD), who placed third with 6.5% of votes cast in the first round of the 2011 presidential election
  • Pascal Iréné Koukpaki, former prime minister (2011-2013).
An interesting aspect of Beninois presidential politics - although there are many parties in the country, and although presidential elections are for the most part free and fair, presidential candidates are often nonpartisan. When Nicephore Soglo won in 1991, he was not affiliated with a party (he was endorsed by an alliance of parties and joined Benin Rebirth (RB) after he was elected). Mathieu Kerekou and Yayi Boni were also not affiliated with a party (although they were endorsed by parties) when they were first elected in 1996 and 2006. Cowry Forces for an Emerging Benin (Forces Cauris pour un Bénin Emergent - FCBE), which first contested legislative elections in 2007, was formed by supporters of the president. Among the candidates listed above, Zinsou is endorsed by FCBE (as well as Houngbedji's party), Koukpaki was a member of FCBE when he was prime minister under Yayi Boni; Tchane seems to be running as an independent (as he did in 2011), and Talon, who supported Yayi Boni in 2006 and 2011, seems to be running as an independent. has some coverage. Here's a quote from an enthusiastic supporter of the frontrunner:
    ‘‘You saw the fever. Did you see wherever we go, people welcomed us, people are happy to have someone like Lionel Zinsou as president of the Republic of Benin. Lionel Zinsou for us is a man of development, Lionel Zinsou for us means development of the country, employment for the youth. That is why we support Lionel Zinsou. And we believe that in the first round, we will win,’‘ said Celine Houessinon, a campaigner for Lionel Zinsou.

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