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Benin Voters Encounter Problems at Polls


During Sunday's local elections in Benin, nearly four million voters were to determine thousands of community and municipal representatives. But problems were reported early on, when many of the 5,000 polling stations did not open on time. Ricci Shryock reports for VOA from our West Africa Bureau in Dakar.

Ballot irregularities and unopened polling stations were reported early Sunday as Benin's citizens cast votes for more than 26,000 candidates from a dozen political parties. At stake is the local control of four major cities in the West African nation, including the political center of Cotonou.

An election observer from the Observatory of Fight against Corruption in Benin, Louis Kodjo Anani, said many voters were restless as they waited for polls to open.

He says some voters were forced to wait for more than an hour before many could cast their vote.

Local journalist Gerard Guèdègbé said the problems were most likely caused by complications from the country's Autonomous National Electoral Commission.

"The electorals [voters] have been to their voting station at seven o'clock, but unfortunately they could not start at this time, because there was a bit of problems in terms of lack of materials - the ballots and all those materials that are necessary for the vote to start on time," said Gerard Guèdègbé. "We were told that this problem arose from all the problems that the electoral commission has been encountering since the start of the electoral process."

But one civil representative stressed the positives of the Benin elections.

Hounnonkpe Attikpa, who is the president of a local non-governmental organization, said this was the first time the people could vote for both minister councils and local councils' representatives at the same time. Although all was not perfect, she said this marriage of two elections in one should be seen as a positive sign for democracy in Benin.

In a speech to the press after voting, Benin President Boni Yayi said he asked for observers to view the elections, because he foresaw that problems would occur.

Yayi acknowledged there are flaws in the Autonomous National Electoral Commission, and he vowed to work on election reforms after Sunday's oversights.