Benin Set to Vote for New President on 5 MarchMarch 4, 2016 in Benin
On Sunday, Benin will vote for a new president in a crowded race that is focused on boosting the flagging economy. However logistical problems may keep hundreds of thousands from casting their ballots.
Current President Thomas Boni Yayi is stepping down after two terms in office, leaving thirty-three candidates vying to replace him. While Benin has not seen the levels of political tension that have plagued other recent votes across the country, including in Burundi and Rwanda, where leaders have tested constitutional limits in a bid to stand for a third term, there are concerns that frustrations could rise because of delays in distributing voting cards that have already held up the vote by one week. According to Fidele Marcos, who heads Amnesty International’s Benin branch, “the problem is that many of the old cards had problems that weren’t addressed.” As of Friday, voter identification cards has not been distributed in two of Benin’s twelve administrative districts, where nearly 700,000 voters live.
Campaigning has centered largely on the unemployment, education and economic growth, which has slackened as plummeting oil prices hit Benin’s much larger neighbor and main trading partner, Nigeria. Leading the field is Prime Minister Lionel Zinsou, a former economist and investment banker who has received public backing from both the president and the main opposition Democratic Renewal party (PRD). He however faces strong opposition inside the ruling Cowry Forces for an Emerging Benin (FCBE) party and from trade unions who say that, having spent much of his life away from Benin’s politics in France, he is an outsider and a poor choice to lead. Other top candidates include ex-prime minister Pascal Irenee Koupaki, Abdoulaye Bio Tchane, a former senior official at the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and prominent businessmen Sebastien Ajavon and Patrice Talon. Tchane has promised to create 500,00 jobs every year of the five-year term, while Ajavon states that he will reduce youth unemployment through the creation of business incubators. Both Zinsou and Talon have pledged to reform Benin’s education system. If no candidate wins an outright majority in the first round of polling on Sunday, then the top two finishers will progress on a run-off vote within fifteen days.