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Political Outsider Leads Benin Presidential Poll

Preliminary results from last Sunday's first round presidential vote in Benin put political outsider Yayi Boni ahead of his opponents. However, it appears unlikely the former West African development bank chief will win the outright majority needed to avoid a second round of polling. Joe Bavier has this report for VOA from our West Africa bureau in Abijdan.

With more than 70 percent of ballots counted, Yayi Boni leads Benin's presidential election with just under 32 percent of votes. Perennial candidate Adrien Houngbedji is in second place, with a little over a quarter of ballots cast. Former government minister Bruno Amoussou rounds out the top three with 19 percent.

The results, announced early Sunday morning, are the first to be made public since voters went to the polls one week ago.

Allegations of attempted fraud and voting irregularities have continued to mount throughout the week, despite claims by international observers that the vote was free and fair.

Elections commission president Sylvain Nouatin rejected claims by some candidates that more than one-million unused voter cards had disappeared during the registration process.

"The elections commission assures the national and international communities that it recorded no loss or disappearance of voter cards," he said. "All undistributed cards were under the control of the commission," he said. They simply had not been returned yet.

Twenty-six candidates contested the first round on March 5. Without any single candidate now likely to win the more than 50 percent required to claim a first round victory, Benin appears set to go to a run-off election between the two top candidates.

Boni supporter Paul Tevoedjre says he is confident his candidate will be able to convert first round success into a second round victory.

"I don't see how the second round vote will be different from what I'm seeing today, that the next president will be Yayi Boni," he said.

Vote counting could end late Sunday or Monday. Results will then be handed over to Benin's constitutional court to be made official, after a 48-hour grace period, to allow for any candidate protests.

A run-off election, if needed, will then be held within two weeks.