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Candidates Prepare for Second Round of Benin Elections


In Benin, the two leading candidates in the first round of presidential elections are trying to gain support from those candidates who fared poorly in the first round. The run-off election between the two top finishers is expected in the next two weeks. Neither of the candidates won an outright majority in the election earlier this month.

The two first round leaders are seeking the support of the 24 candidates who finished behind them. None of the losers has announced their position yet.

Political newcomer Yayi Boni won the first round with 36 percent of the vote. In second place, with 24 percent, is former speaker of parliament Adrien Houngbedji, who has unsuccessfully stood for president three times in the past.

Leading contender Boni is the former head of the West African Development Bank. Having stood as an independent candidate, this is his first attempt to become a political leader.

Cotonou-based political analyst Gerard Guedegbe says Boni's appeal is that he entered the race without any political baggage.

"He has no political party, he is just a newcomer. It is the first time he is running for the presidency and he is ahead," he said. "This is clearly an expression of the voters' desire for change from all we have seen so far; I mean those politicians that have been ruling Benin since 1990 when we started the democratic process."

Another notable candidate is Lehagi Soglo, who came in fourth. He is considering a complaint to the high court, charging that irregularities marred the vote. Soglo is the son a popular former president who won election in 1991.

Political analyst Guedegbe says Soglo supporters have already explained what their objections are.

"Their complaint is first of all that the electoral commission did not make all the necessary materials available for the voters to cast their votes," he said. "Some voters came and returned to their house and were not able to come back to vote and this has caused them to lose votes. And also each party is supposed to send a representative to make a follow-up of the vote on behalf of the party. They say that there were also some problems in this."

One of the top officials of the Boni campaign, Albert Tevoedjre, acknowledges that there were minor irregularities. But he says Soglo's complaints, even if they are considered, will not get him into the second round.

"There were some irregularities, but the courts have considered this," he noted. "Anyway, the decision stands now. I see no chance for his claim."

The winner of the second round will succeed outgoing President Mathieu Kerekou, who was barred from seeking re-election by a constitutional two-term limit. At 72, he is also too old to run, as is Soglo's father.

Kerekou has been at Benin's helm for most of the past three decades, opening it to multiparty democracy in 1990.