PORTO-NOVO. – Benin went to the polls yesterday to choose a new president but with lingering concerns about the distribution of voters’ cards that has already forced a two-week postponement to the election. Polling stations open at 0600 GMT in the tiny West African nation with 4,7 million voters and close nine hours later, with a record 33 candidates on the first round ballot paper.
Incumbent President Thomas Boni Yayi is bowing out after serving a maximum two five-year terms. The first results are expected within 72 hours of the vote. Prominent candidates include Lionel Zinsou, the Franco-Beninese financier who stepped down as head of France’s biggest investment bank to become prime minister last year.
The 61-year-old, who is standing for the ruling Cowry Forces for an Emerging Benin (FCBE) party, has been seen since his appointment as Boni Yayi’s chosen successor. He already has the support of two opposition parties and on Friday dismissed critics who see him as an outsider, “parachuted” in by former colonial power France.
“People say I’m white, an interloper, a foreigner, a Frenchman, a colonialist,” Zinsou told AFP. “But there’s perhaps 10 percent of people who act like that.
“For 90 percent of people, obviously I’m different but that creates a certain interest.”
Zinsou, who was a speechwriter for France’s socialist former prime minister Laurent Fabius in the 1980s, said he had also encountered people who were proud of his success abroad.
Two of Benin’s leading businessmen, Patrice Talon, 57, and Sebastien Ajavon, are also seen as front-runners, pitching for the top job after previously bankrolling presidential bids from the sidelines.
Also among the favourites are economist Abdoulaye Bio Tchane and financier Pascal Irenee Koupaki, both 64. – AFP.