Benin presidential election: Zinsou and Talon for the run-off
BY MODUPE ABIOLA, SPECIAL ENVOY
COTONOU, BENIN—Just moments ago this Tuesday morning, the National Autonomous Electoral Commission of Benin, CENA, announced the two-front runners who will face off during the run-off election in two weeks: current prime minister Lionel Zinsou, the candidate of outgoing president Yayi Boni, and businessman Patrice Talon, who came first and second with 856,218 votes (or 28.44%) and 746,798 votes (or 23.03%) respectively. These numbers, according to our sources, don’t include the votes of the Beninese expatriates, which should not make a major difference.
If the tradition is followed, the second runner-up, in this case businessman Sebastien Ajavon, who came third with 693,492 votes (or 23.03%) would act as what’s called here “a King maker” by instructing his followers to vote for one of the two-front runners against big pay-offs in kind (cabinet positions) and/or large cash.
But Benin, truly the flagship of democracy in Africa, is a very complex nation. Also, these are very special times when, after ten years in office, the outgoing president is heavily criticized, wrongly or rightly, for halting the country’s democratic progress, and is very unpopular.
The two driving forces in Benin politics are money (not unlike other African countries but significantly so here) and conspiracy theories.
Of all the theories floating around, the most persistent one speculates that Sebastien Ajavon, a member of the anti-establishment coalition who has personally been at odds with the head of state—openly criticizing him—for most of his tenure, will throw his support behind Talon. (Echoing the widespread belief here that businessmen have no place in politics, President Yayi has spoken several times against the candidacy of both Ajavon and Talon.)
However, some pundits stress the power of money in Benin politics by raising the prospect of Ajavon—who has outspent all the candidates—siding with Yayi’s standard bearer, prime minister Lionel Zinsou, if Ajavon can recover the ton of money he spent for his campaign. Also, a conspiracy theory has it that right on the outset Ajavon was (and still is now) Yayi’s disguised surrogate. Speaking to The African on the condition of anonymity, a former aide to President Yayi who now sides with Talon, stated, with apparent anguish, that “Anything is possible, because of the power of money in our political system.”
People who are not familiar with the Benin political theater are surprised by the large number of candidates for the presidency, 33 total, which translates into one would-be president for every 143,000 voters. The candidates fall into two broad categories. The tiny minority with a serious intention to win the high office, which includes, besides the top three (Zinsou, Talon and Ajavon), former West African Development Bank president Abdoulaye Bio Tchane (who scored 8.79% of the votes across several regions of Benin), and former prime minister Pascal Irenee Koupaki (5.85%). The rest of the field is largely composed of “gamblers” driven by the hope to win enough votes to be able to negotiate for cash and/or a cabinet position in return for their endorsement and the subsequent votes of their base for one of the front-runners. With the field so wide this time, and the insignificant percentages scored by anybody below the top five, a local analyst tells The African, the gamble has not paid off. After all, the required, non-reimbursable registration fee of cfa 15 million ($25,188) is no little money in Benin, especially for those among the candidates who are known to be poor and/or heavily in debt.
HOW THEY SCORED
Lionel Zinsou: 28.44%. Talon Patrice: 24.80%. Ajavon Sébastien: 23.03%. Abdoulaye Bio Tchane: 8.79 %. Pascal I. Koupaki: 5.85%. Gbian Robert: 1.56%. Fernand Amoussou: 1.17%. Salifou issa: 1.04%. Natonde Ake: 0.88%. Bako Arifari: 0.63 %. Saliou Youssao: 0.4%. Atao: 0.4%. Koovi Bertin 0.35%. Senou Richard: 0.26%. Chabi Sika: 0.24%. Salami Zul-kifl: 0.21%. Agbossaga Jawad: 0.19%. Kogui Ndouro: 0.16%. Goudali: 0.16%. El hadj Azizou: 0.14%. Alexandre Hountondji: 0.13%. Rustique Guezo: 0.13%. Gbedo Marie-Elise: 0.12%. Gabriel Ajavon: 0.13%. Edah Daniel: 0.12%. Lagnide Christian: 0.11%. Pierre Simon Adovelande: 0.09%. Issa Badarou Soule: 0.09%. Soumanou Moudjaidou: 0.09%. Gatien Houngbedji: 0.07%. Fassassi Kamarou: 0.06 %. Kessile Tchalla: 0.04 %. de Souza Marcel: 0.01%.