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Son of Benin's Ex-President Vies for Presidency

The people of Benin go to the polls Sunday to elect a new president in the fourth election since multiparty politics were re-introduced in 1990 after decades of military rule. In the first of a series of profiles on the main candidates vying for the presidency we report on opposition candidate Lehady Soglo.

Benin is considered by many analysts as one of West Africa's democratic success stories. In 1991, after 19 years of single party rule, General Mathieu Kerekou handed over power after losing a presidential election, making the country the first in Africa to successfully transfer from military rule to democracy.

Fifteen years later, opposition candidate Lehady Soglo says Benin still has a long way to go.

"Our country is in trouble," he says. "To confront this worrying situation, we must show our patriotism, our solidarity, our dynamism, and our creativity."

Soglo, the son of the man who won the 1991 poll, former President Nicephore Soglo, says Benin's political landscape has stagnated. A key plank in his platform with his Renaissance of Benin party is the creation of a broader spectrum of political participation, with the inclusion of all members of society.

Born in Paris, the 55-year-old foreign educated economist was, until recently, the deputy mayor of Benin's commercial capital, Cotonou, where his father was elected to office after leaving the presidency.

Soglo is relatively young. And he says his professional experience, his education, and his presence in the movement to democratize the country since 1991, make him the personification of real change.

However, some critics question how much change can come from a party that has been thoroughly dominated by one family since its creation. The party was founded by Soglo's mother in 1992. Both Lehady Soglo and his brother, Galiou, fought over the party's nomination, with Galiou choosing in the end to run on his own ticket.

The family division has also split the loyalties of longtime party backers, a fact observers say could hurt Lehady Soglo at the polls.

However, he should be able to count on a strong base of support among those still nostalgic towards his father's time as president.

"To live better, he says, this is the legitimate aspiration of each citizen of Benin." And that is the contract he says he would like to sign with the voters.