The opposition vows to take to the streets to challenge Pierre Nkurunziza’s candidacy for the June 26 election.
Benin’s voters have gone to the polls to choose a new president, despite lingering concerns about the distribution of voter cards that have already forced the election to be postponed once.
Polling stations opened on Sunday in the tiny West African nation of 4.7 million people. The first results are expected within 72 hours of the vote.
President Thomas Boni Yayi, who was elected with 75 percent of the vote in 2006, but later tainted by corruption allegations and economic mismanagement, is stepping down after serving a maximum two five-year terms.
Voters will choose between a record 33 candidates to replace him, including a former prime minister and two of the country’s most powerful businessmen.
Key issues in the election include job creation, tackling corruption, improving health and education and boosting the nation’s economy. According to the World Bank, 36 percent of people in Benin live below the poverty line.
The frontrunner is Prime Minister Lionel Zinsou, who is standing for the ruling Cowry Forces for an Emerging Benin (FCBE) party.
The 61-year-old already has the support of two opposition parties and the current president, Boni Yayi. But critics may hold his French connections against him, calling him an outsider “parachuted” in by former colonial power France.
“People say I’m white, an interloper, a foreigner, a Frenchman, a colonialist,” Zinsou told the AFP news agency. “But there’s perhaps 10 percent of people who act like that. For 90 percent of people, obviously I’m different but that creates a certain interest.”
Other top candidates include cotton magnate Patrice Talon, regarded by many as Benin’s richest man; businessman Sebastien Alavon, who made his fortune in the food industry; former premier Pascal Koupaki; and Abdoulaye Bio Tchane, a former Africa director of the International Monetary Fund.
Marie Elise Gbedo, a 62-year-old lawyer in her fourth attempt to contest for the country’s top seat, is one of two female candidates.
Benin has not seen the levels of political tension that have plagued other recent elections across the continent, including in Burundi and Rwanda where leaders have tested constitutional limits to stand for a third term.
But there are concerns that frustrations could rise because of delays in the production and distribution of voter cards. The first round of the elections had been due to take place on February 28 but was rescheduled.
With so many candidates, political analysts predict no decisive result on Sunday and believe whoever wins in the northern region will determine the overall result.