Benin’s electoral commission has declared incumbent Patrice Talon the winner of the country’s presidential election with 86 percent of the votes in the first round of a ballot boycotted by some opposition parties.
Talon, a cotton tycoon first elected in 2016, faced two rivals in Sunday’s poll, with most of his key opponents in exile or disqualified from running.
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His opponents, Alassane Soumanou and Corentin Kohoue, got 11.29 and 2.25 percent respectively, according to provisional results announced by the commission on Tuesday. Turnout was about 50.17 percent.
Benin’s constitutional court must verify the final results.
With Talon almost guaranteed victory, analysts had said voter turnout would be a key measure of the 62-year-old’s election success.
Three international observer missions had already noted low turnout in the election, though they said the vote generally went ahead peacefully despite tensions and protests in the lead up.
Critics say Benin, once praised as a vibrant multi-party democracy, has veered onto an authoritarian path under Talon with a steady campaign against his political foes.
Even before the announcement, for some Beninese the election results meant little.
“This election was just folklore,” restaurant owner George Kpatchavi told AFP news agency. “We are not waiting for the results because they were already known in advance. After the elections, everything will return to order.”
An association of civil society groups, which deployed more than 1,400 election observers, said in its preliminary statement on Sunday that “attempts to pressurise, intimidate, threaten, corrupt or harass voters were observed across the entire country”.
Protests had blocked some routes in opposition strongholds in the centre and north of the country in the run-up to the election, leading to delays in the dispatch of electoral materials.
Two people were killed last week when troops fired live rounds into the air to break up an opposition protest blockading a major route in the central city of Save.
Benin has seen some economic successes under Talon, who had promised a “KO” first-round win in Sunday’s election. Supporters have praised his projects to expand electricity and basic services.
But since Talon first came to power, critics say he has used a special economic crimes and terrorism court, and electoral reforms as tools to disqualify the opposition.
Reckya Madougou, one opposition leader who was barred from running, was detained last month on accusations of plotting to disrupt the vote, 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 against Talon’s opponents.
US democracy watchdog Freedom House downgraded Benin last year in its annual rankings from “free” to “partly free”.
Talon has denied his government is targeting his opponents.