With most of his rivals in exile or sidelined, Beninese President Patrice Talon appears poised to win a second term.
Voters in Benin are expected to vote in a presidential election on Sunday, days after deadly protests against President Patrice Talon, who is heavily favored to win a second term.
Talon, cotton tycoon elected for the first time in 2016, faces two little-known rivals, Alassane Soumanou and Corentin Kohoue.
Opponents accuse 62-year-old Talon of undermining Benin’s multi-party democratic dynamic by dismissing most of its main opponents.
Protests in several cities over the past week have turned violent. At least two people deceased in the central town of Save, when troops fired tear gas and live ammunition on Thursday to disperse protesters who had blocked a major highway. Five others were injured.
In the commercial capital Cotonou, several people said they feared violence on polling day.
“The events of the last few days scare me,” said Christophe Dossou, a student. “I prefer to be careful.”
Some of the protesters’ complaints include Talon’s turnaround on the promise he made as a candidate in 2016 to serve only one term, and the changes he pushed to election laws that he said aimed to rationalize cumbersome government institutions. In practice, these reforms resulted in total control of parliament by Talon supporters and the exclusion of major opponents from the presidential race.
An opposition leader, Reckya Madougou, was arrested last month on charges of conspiring to disrupt the elections, a charge his lawyer says is fabricated.
A judge from a special economic crimes tribunal set up by Talon also fled the country last week after speaking out against political pressure to issue rulings against the president’s criticisms, including the decision to detain Madougou.
Meanwhile, businessman Sébastien Ajavon, third in the 2016 presidential poll, was convicted of drug trafficking in 2018 and sentenced to 20 years in prison, while another potential rival, the former Minister of Finance Komi Koutche, was sentenced to 20 years in prison for embezzlement. Ajavon lives in exile in France, while Koutche lives in Washington, DC.
Talon denies targeting his opponents.
He campaigned on his economic record, which includes improvements to key infrastructure such as roads, water and energy supplies.
Benin, a country of around 12 million people, became Africa’s largest cotton exporter in 2018 and recorded average annual gross domestic product growth of over 5% before the global economic slowdown caused by the coronavirus pandemic.
“What we have done has not been easy,” Talon said at one of his last campaign rallies on Friday. “We are strong and we know how to get there.”
He said he expected a “knockout victory” for which there would be no need for a second ballot.
The embassies of the United States, Germany, France and the Netherlands as well as the European Union delegation in Benin all called on Friday for calm and for the vote to take place in a free and transparent manner.
“We urge all parties to peacefully express their views,” US State Department spokesman Ned Price told reporters. “We urge the electoral institutions and courts that oversee these processes and verify these results to ensure that these elections are conducted in a free, fair and transparent manner.”
The results are expected to be announced on Monday or Tuesday.