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30.04.2019 Benin

Benin waits for controversial poll results

By Sophie BOUILLON
Initial estimates from civil society groups monitoring the polls said turnout ranged from as low as 1.25 percent to up to 63.27 percent.  By Yanick Folly (AFP)
APR 30, 2019 BENIN
Initial estimates from civil society groups monitoring the polls said turnout ranged from as low as 1.25 percent to up to 63.27 percent. By Yanick Folly (AFP)

Voter turnout in elections in Benin was potentially the lowest in decades, as people waited Tuesday for results from controversial polls without any opposition candidates.

While no fixed time has been set for the release of results of the vote on Sunday, one Election Commission official said that first results could be announced by Thursday.

The results themselves are in little doubt.

All candidates contesting for the 83 parliamentary seats come from just two parties, the Republican Bloc and the Progressive Union, and both of them are allied to President Patrice Talon.

The small West African state was long held up as a model for democracy, but the main opposition parties were effectively barred from fielding candidates by tough new eligibility rules.

With many people apparently heeding opposition party calls to boycott the polls on Sunday, the big question is not so much the result, but rather the turnout of the five million registered voters.

Vote boycotted

Initial estimates from civil society groups monitoring the polls said turnout ranged from as low as 1.25 percent to up to 63.27 percent, depending on the polling stations.

"It is an unprecedented situation," said Fatoumata Batoko, who heads a coalition of civil society groups.

Their work on polling day was hampered by the shutting down of the internet, which was cut on Sunday for the voting, but has since been switched back on.

Former presidents Thomas Boni Yayi (L) and Nicephore Soglo have called for the polls to be annulled.  By Yanick Folly (AFP/File) Former presidents Thomas Boni Yayi (L) and Nicephore Soglo have called for the polls to be annulled. By Yanick Folly (AFP/File)

"It is likely that the participation rate remains the lowest since the beginning of democratic renewal" in 1990, she told a press conference.

Before that, Benin struggled under decades of authoritarian rule. The transition to democracy brought a flowering of political competition -- five years ago, voters could chose from 20 parties for the 83 seats in parliament.

But this year, lawmakers from the ruling party pushed through a new electoral code that meant there was not a single opposition candidate to choose from.

On voting day, civil society groups recorded a total of 206 incidents, according to Joel Atayi Guedegbe, another member of the coalition of activists.

Those include the reported death of one man, wounded in scuffles between protesters and security forces, as well as the destruction of election materials, Guedegbe said.

Two ex-presidents have condemned the polls and called for them to be annulled.

"The people demand the return of democracy," Thomas Boni Yayi, who preceded Talon as president from 2006-2016, told reporters on Monday.

"The institutions are no longer credible," Yayi said, calling on people to resist the current president. "Talon will walk over our dead bodies."

Nicephore Soglo, president from 1991-1996, called on Talon to "annul the vote".

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