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14.04.2021 Benin

Benin's Talon takes tough line after re-election win

By Camille Malplat with Louise Dewast in Lagos
Incumbent President Patrice Talon won with 86.3 percent of the vote in Sunday's election.  By PIUS UTOMI EKPEI (AFP)
LISTEN APR 14, 2021
Incumbent President Patrice Talon won with 86.3 percent of the vote in Sunday's election. By PIUS UTOMI EKPEI (AFP)

Benin's President Patrice Talon took a tough stance on Wednesday vowing to track down those responsible for violence in opposition protests after he was re-elected in a vote critics say was stacked in his favour.

Talon, 62, promised more economic development programmes after re-election and he appears clear of challenges for now with his major rivals sidelined or exiled from a West African country once praised as a beacon of multi-party democracy.

His remarks showed little sign of reconciliation after the former cotton magnate won 86.3 percent of the votes in Sunday's election when he faced two little-known opponents.

Last week two people were killed by gunfire and five more wounded when troops opened fire in the air with live rounds to clear an opposition protest blockading a major highway in the centre of the country.

Government officials say security forces were responding after they came under fire.

Talon visited a hospital on Wednesday to meet with some of the security force members who officials say were wounded.

"We have reached unacceptable levels in the republic and we will do everything to ensure that it never happens again," Talon told reporters.

"First, identify all those who were instigators, perpetrators in one way or another so that they are accountable for their actions."

Benin's interior minister, Sacca Lafia, said 21 security force personnel were injured after being "violently attacked by individuals with hunting rifles and weapons of war."

Obversers say voter turnout was lower than in the past after an opposition boycott.  By PIUS UTOMI EKPEI (AFP) Obversers say voter turnout was lower than in the past after an opposition boycott. By PIUS UTOMI EKPEI (AFP)

Once hailed for its vibrant pluralism in an often troubled region, critics say Talon has steered the former French colony into authoritarianism with a steady crackdown on his opponents.

Some left Benin while others were disqualified from running by electoral law reforms or targeted by a special court critics say Talon has used as a political tool.

Some opposition figures had called for a boycott of the election.

"Opposition supporters shunned the ballot, either out of fear... or lack of motivation following a call to boycott the vote, or disgusted by a government that inspires neither confidence nor enthusiasm," said Corentin Kohoue, one of the two rivals in the election, acknowledging defeat on Wednesday.

Songhai Advisory, an Africa risk analysis group, said the election victory leaves Talon unhindered to pursue his economic and other policies.

"He is unencumbered by any significant opposition and the country's economy has survived the Covid-19 pandemic particularly well," it said in a research note.

'Development is here'

Talon's supporters cited his economic programmes for better water supplies, electricity, basic services and roads as key reasons for his success.

But in the country's economic capital Cotonou, there was little celebration in the streets after the results were announced.

On Twitter, Talon wrote: "Thank you all, development is here."

The president said that "Benin has once again, through this vote, demonstrated its people and democracy are mature."

Map of Benin.  By  (AFP) Map of Benin. By (AFP)

The United States embassy in Benin however said in a statement that it was "disappointed that polling centres in some areas were unable to open," and that it "remains concerned about electoral competitiveness and declining participation."

Three international observer missions also noted a low turnout, though they said the vote generally went ahead peacefully.

Official turnout was 50.17 percent, the electoral commission said, rejecting a much lower estimate of 26 percent given by a platform of civil society organisations.

Voting could not take place in 13 of the country's 546 districts, the commission said, after protesters blocked major roads in the centre and north, delaying the dispatch of electoral material.

One Benin opposition leader was detained last month on accusations of plotting to disrupt the vote with terrorism, a charge her lawyer said was politically motivated.

Earlier this month, a judge from the special court that ordered her detention said he had fled the country, denouncing political pressure to make rulings.

Expedit Ologou, a Benin-based researcher, told AFP Talon now has three options.

One would be a hardline which may radicalise the opposition. A second option would be taking a middle ground to talk to a few opponents to show some dialogue, or finally appeasement to enter into negotiations.

"This last option seems the least plausible to me, when we know the regime in place," Ologou said.

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