After a tense contest, Benin President Patrice Talon appeared to be heading for re-election on Sunday, despite critics accusing him of manipulating the race in his favor by excluding opposition leaders.
Talon, a cotton tycoon who was first elected in 2016, faced off against two unknown opponents, while some of the country’s primary opposition leaders boycotted the vote.
Most opposition figures have been expelled, disqualified by electoral reforms, or have been targeted for investigation by a special court. Benin was once hailed as a thriving democracy in an often troubled country, but most opposition figures have been exiled, disqualified by electoral reforms, or have been targeted for investigation by a special court.
Tensions grew in the run-up to the election, with protests erupting in many cities in opposition strongholds, though voting went on largely without incident on Sunday.
Hundreds of cars and trucks traveling between the coast and the north were blocked by demonstrators in central and northern Benin.
Benin, which is sandwiched between Africa’s powerhouse Nigeria and neighboring Togo, has seen some economic growth under Talon, who has emphasized his record during his campaign. He guaranteed a first-round “KO” victory.
“We must educate each other so that frustrations do not give rise to violence,” said Talon, 62, as he voted on Sunday at a polling station in Cotonou.
However, one of the opposition leaders barred from running, Joel Aivo, has confirmed that he will not vote and has encouraged others to do the same.
“The president has chosen to run against himself in this unprecedented election,” the FRD opposition movement said, adding that candidates had been “driven into exile, arrested, thrown in prison”.
According to preliminary data collected by a coalition of civil society organizations that deployed 1,400 observers, voter turnout was poor relative to previous elections. The final number of people who attended has yet to be revealed.
Troops fired tear gas and live rounds into the air to break up a protest in the central city of Save on Thursday, killing two people and wounding five others.
On Sunday, Save’s streets were deserted, with all businesses closed and soldiers patrolling the area. According to an AFP reporter on the scene, some polling stations remained empty and some voting materials were burnt.
At midday, polling stations in Tchaourou and Bante, strongholds of former President Thomas Boni Yayo, had not yet opened, according to a civil society observation mission.
“This is the first time in 30 years that I have not voted in a presidential election. This election is sad, it is not a celebration, because our democracy is wounded,” said 53-year-old waiter George.
“Yes President Talon made roads, electricity is good, but the restriction of freedoms, and opposition arrests are not normal.”
More than 4.9 million people were eligible to vote, with over 15,500 polling stations across the country.
The final results won’t be available until Monday or Tuesday.
-Calm is urged-
Talon’s supporters have dismissed claims that the election would be rigged, claiming that all of the necessary conditions for a fair vote have been met.
Despite delays in sending electoral materials to the north, the electoral commission’s president, Emmanuel Tiando, told AFP on Saturday that “nothing prevents this election from taking place.”
The US, German, French, and Dutch embassies in Benin, as well as the EU delegation, had all urged calm and a free and open vote.
The streets of Cotonou, the country’s economic capital, were quiet during the day, but many people were concerned about possible violence when the results were announced.
“I went to vote because it is a civic duty, but also because I want the reforms to continue,” one voter said in Cotonou, asking not to be named. “The president built the roads and finally things change. You can’t make an omelet without breaking some eggs.”
Following 17 years of Marxist-Leninist military rule, the former French colony became a multi-party democracy in 1990.
However, critics say that since taking power as an independent candidate, Talon has used a special economic crimes and extremism court as well as electoral changes to disqualify the opposition.
“I support the president because we had so many problems before. Water shortages and power cuts… now it’s much better,” said Ulrich Adjalla in Cotonou.
“The president can’t be good for everyone,” said the unemployed 28-year-old, but “I trust him to create jobs for this country’s youth.”
SOURCE: THE GUARDIAN