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Slow Turnout Marks Benin Second Round


Turnout has been slow in Benin's confusion-filled second round run-off election between an economist and a veteran politician. Voters who expected the election to take place later in the week, were only informed Saturday that the vote had been moved up to Sunday.

Unlike the first round, polls opened on time, but instead of long lines, there was just a trickle of voters all day long everywhere in Benin.

While voting in the main city, Cotonou, front-runner Yayi Boni, previously the head of the West African Development Bank, called for a massive turnout. But it was not to be.

He also called for a peaceful and transparent vote, and said, after the elections are over, the main priority will be to address what he called the challenge of development.

Boni has gotten the support of the candidates who finished third-to-fifth in the crowded first round.

His opponent, former parliament speaker, Adrien Houngbedji, voted in the capital Porto Novo. In a speech Saturday night, he said it was obvious many in Benin thought Boni stood for change, but that he would still stay in the race.

One politician who has not expressed his preference, outgoing long-time President Mathieu Kerekou, congratulated himself for making sure the vote was taking place within constitutional norms -- two weeks exactly after the first round. He ignored a constitutional court ruling that the vote should be delayed a few days to allow time to prepare.

He was barred from running because of a two-term limit and a 70-year-old age limit for candidates.

His longtime rival, , the first to win democratic elections in Benin in 1991, said it was time for a new generation. He was also barred from running because of his age.

While voting in the afternoon in Cotonou, Mr. Soglo praised the discipline, patience and patriotism of voters, despite the many challenges.

The U.S. ambassador, Wayne Neill, was also impressed.

"We're finding it very transparent," he said. "We're finding that the election commission, CENA, has managed to provide materials under difficult circumstances. The elections themselves are taking place in an atmosphere of dignity and calm."

Early indications of results are expected Monday, with Boni as the heavy favorite.

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