Benin tense as president seeks re-election

COTONOU (AFP) – Benin President Patrice Talon sought re-election yesterday in a tense ballot, with critics accusing him of rigging the race in his favour by sidelining opposition leaders.

A cotton tycoon first elected to lead the West African nation in 2016, Talon faces two little-known rivals, Alassane Soumanou and Corentin Kohoue.

Benin was once praised as a vibrant democracy in an often troubled region, but most opposition leaders are either in exile, were disqualified by electoral reforms or have been targetted for investigation by a special court. Tensions rose ahead of the vote, with protests breaking out in several cities in opposition strongholds.

In central and northern Benin, protesters blocked hundreds of cars and trucks travelling between the coast and the north.

On Thursday, in the central city of Save, two people died and five others suffered gunshot wounds after troops fired tear gas and live rounds in the air to break up a demonstration.

“I don’t understand what Talon is doing,” said Philomene M’Betti Tepa, a resident of the northwestern town of Boukoumbe.

“If the president has issues with opponents, he should spare the people.”

Talon’s backers have rejected accusations the election will be fixed, saying all the conditions are there for a fair vote.

The electoral commission’s president Emmanuel Tiando told AFP on Saturday that despite delays in dispatching electoral material to the north, there was “nothing preventing this election from taking place”.

More than 4.9 million people are eligible to vote across 15,531 polling stations. Polls opened at 7am (0600 GMT), and final results are not expected until today or tomorrow.