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Benin's Outgoing President Moves Election Up to Sunday


Benin's outgoing president, Mathieu Kerekou, has ignored a court ruling calling for a delay of the second round, run-off presidential election, saying it will go ahead Sunday as originally planned. On Friday, the constitutional court had ruled that the vote should be postponed until Wednesday, as requested by election officials, to give them more time to prepare. Election officials are scrambling to prepare the country in time.

The national election commission (CENA) is rushing to get the word out that voting will take place Sunday, not Wednesday.

Cotonou-based political analyst Gerard Guedegbe says the whole electoral process has been this way, rushed and imperfect.

"The electoral commission is launching many press releases on all media, because people were not informed and this is a very difficult decision," he said. "Even the president of CENA has just said that, anyway, he has to cope with the situation. Of course, they will try to organize the election. It will certainly not be what they think it would be, if it were organized on the 22nd of March."

Mr. Kerekou says the constitution dictates that the second round of elections should be exactly two weeks after the first round.

Even with months of preparations, delays, a lack of funds and logistical problems marred the first round.

President Kerekou added to the confusion, by rambling somewhat vaguely when he voted, saying that he did not think the process would be transparent. Election results were slow in arriving, and the first round results were only certified Wednesday.

Mr. Kerekou is barred from running again, because of a two-term limit as well as an age limit for candidates. His long-time rival Nicephore Soglo is also barred from running because of the age limit.

Soglo was elected to a five-year term in 1991, but apart from those years, Mr. Kerekou has ruled Benin first as a Marxist coup leader, then as an elected born-again Christian, for more than three decades.

The former head of the West African Development Bank, a northerner like Mr. Kerekou, Yayi Boni, won first place in the crowded first round, with nearly 36 percent of the vote.

Second place went to former parliament speaker, and repeated loser in past elections, Adrien Houngbedji, with 24 percent.

But Guedegbe, the political analyst, says first round contenders, who finished third, fourth and fifth have now thrown their support behind Boni.

"The three of them, the kingmakers as they are called here, their final decision has been awaited for two or three days here by the population, and, yesterday, they finally said they will vote for Yayi Boni," he said. "It is clear [now], because no other political party has given their support to Houngbedji. So, people presume that Yayi Boni is the one in line to replace President Kerekou, if everything is done well here."

An estimated four million adults have voting cards, but it is unclear with the short notice, whether many in remote areas will be aware of Sunday's election, or, even if they are, whether voting materials will make it to their polling centers.

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