Benin may be headed for a runoff

2011-03-14 14:31

Cotonou - Benin President Boni Yayi and his main challenger appeared headed for a runoff, partial and unofficial results showed on Monday, after a vote that was mostly calm despite chaotic preparations.

Newspapers published unofficial results from a sampling of districts across the West African nation following Sunday's vote, which had previously been delayed twice because preparations were not complete.

Results from some 28 areas published by Le Matinal showed Yayi with more than 262 000 votes and Adrien Houngbedji, backed by many of the country's traditional political elites, at around 172 000. The paper predicted a runoff between the two.

Another paper, La Fraternite, published results for the economic capital Cotonou that showed Houngbedji ahead there in a tight race, which included a total of 14 candidates.

Le Matin newspaper published partial results showing Houngbedji with some 158 000 votes to Yayi's 118 000 from some 57 areas.

"Yayi in the lead, according to the major trends," Le Matin wrote however, adding that a runoff between the two candidates was likely.

Many of the partial results had come from the country's south, where Houngbedji is from. Yayi, seeking a second five-year term, is from the north.

Chaotic preparations

A third major candidate, Abdoulaye Bio Tchane, appeared far behind the top contenders.

The vote was held after chaotic preparations twice postponed the election, and Yayi apologised for procedural problems after casting his ballot.

Glitches persisted on voting day, with a number of polling stations opening late because material had not arrived, but the ex-French colony of some 9.2 million people appeared to have allayed fears of total disarray.

Benin was using an electronic voting list for the first time, and the opposition claimed that more than a million people had been left off the roll -- a figure others said was exaggerated.

Yayi apologised for problems with the electoral list, but said the process would benefit the people in the long term.

"We are only at the beginning, my fellow citizens. There are surely errors," Yayi said after voting in Cotonou.

"That's why, in the name of the country, I ask forgiveness from those who were omitted, if they exist."

Houngbedji again criticised the electoral list after casting his ballot, saying it was "the moment of victory, victory of our people over those who have attempted to prevent them from exercising their right to vote."

Voter registration

Hundreds lined up calmly at polling stations on Sunday, gripping electoral cards under the harsh sun, with some showing up before the scheduled 07:00 (06:00 GMT) start time and facing long waits when material did not arrive.

The process went well in other areas, however, and the head of an African Union observer mission, speaking at around midday on Sunday, said the situation was mixed, citing the late opening of some polling places.

Yayi, 58, took office in 2006 pledging to crack down on corruption but now finds himself under fire over an alleged Ponzi scheme that left thousands without their savings.

Houngbedji, 69, had pushed for a third postponement of the election, arguing that voter registration should continue.

A mop-up voter registration was originally to be held last Wednesday and Thursday, but was extended into Saturday when crowds mobbed sign-up centres and equipment broke down.