President Patrice Talon is set to win a second term as a group of opposition parties called for a boycott.
The counting of the votes began Sunday in Benin after a presidential election boycotted by some opposition parties due to pre-election violence and their objection to President Patrice Talon’s search for a second term.
The provisional results of the first round of the election are expected on April 13.
Cotton tycoon first elected in 2016, Talon faced two little-known rivals as some of the West African country’s top opposition leaders boycotted the election.
Benin was once hailed as a vibrant democracy in the region, but most opposition figures are now exiled, disqualified by electoral reforms, or have been investigated by a special tribunal.
Protests in several cities this week turned violent. Some people were shot dead in the central town of Bante on Thursday when security forces fired warning shots, its mayor said on local radio, without saying how many have died.
After voting at a primary school in the commercial capital, Cotonou, Talon said Benin was “writing another page in its history despite intimidation”.
“There are people who have mobilized fighters to attack the republic. Police officers were attacked with weapons of war. It’s unfortunate, ”he said, without giving more details.
Among the protesters’ complaints are 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, which resulted in the scrutiny. total of parliament by Talon supporters and excluding leaders. opponents of the presidential race.
A coalition of opposition parties in a statement last Saturday called on their supporters to boycott the poll, and voters largely stayed away from at least five polling stations in areas of opposition support in Cotonou.
“I think it’s an election whose results are known in advance. My vote will not change anything, ”said Nadine Abibou, a 27-year-old trader.
Others were not deterred by the call for a boycott.
“I came to vote this morning to choose the president. I hope that the Beninese will come out en masse to do the same thing as me, ”said Diane Fanou, a 30-year-old hairdresser, in the Zogbo district.
As of 11 a.m. local time (10 a.m. GMT), voting had not started in several districts in the center of the country as election materials were blocked from reaching polling stations, a group of civil society organizations monitoring said. the elections.
The US democracy watchdog, Freedom House, demoted Benin last year in its annual ranking from “free” to “partially free”.
The embassies of the United States, Germany, France and the Netherlands as well as the EU delegation in Benin all called for calm and for the vote to take place in a free and transparent manner.