Patrice Talon wins the presidency in Benin
BY JIBRIL TURE
According to statistics released Sunday night by the Benin Polling Institute (IBS), a reliable organization that has accurately predicted previous elections in the country, Benin cotton magnate Patrice Talon, who came second after the first round of the presidential election of March 6th, is credited with 64.8% of the votes against 35.2% for his opponent, out-going prime minister Lionel Zinsou, following the run-off election of Sunday, March 20th. Lionel Zinsou was the standard bearer of outgoing president Yayi Boni. The credibility of the IBS lies in the near-accuracy of its prediction for the results of the first-round which was off by a mere 2 percentage point, in the margin of error.
It will take a couple of days before the Autonomous National Electoral Commission (CENA) releases the official numbers, which will require the validation of the Constitutional Court, the ultimate institution mandated to officially announce the winner. But there is no mystery about Talon’s resounding victory that has prompted a celebratory atmosphere across the country. Indeed, the CENA later in the day announced, based on preliminary data available, that Talon has secured 65.39% against 34.61% for Zinsou.
The run-off was largely incident-free, just like the first round of voting, baring a few fraudulent attempts by surrogates of the out-going president. The most flagrant of such attempts occurred on the campus of the University of Parakou, in the northern region, where the president’s minister in charge of public administration, Aboubacar Yaya, was caught red-handed attempting to buy voter cards from the students around 2 in the morning on Sunday. But the attempt failed thanks to the strong anti-fraud measures put in place by Talon’s supporters. The minister, who was carrying a brief-case full of money, and his accomplices were chased out of the campus by a crowd chanting “thieves! Cheaters!” with cars and motorcycles honking. Also, Augustin Ahouanvoébla, a lawmaker and member of one of the parties that supported Zinsou’s candidacy, was arrested and detained by the police after being caught red-handed trying to commit an electoral fraud near Porto-Novo, Benin’s capital.
Talon’s victory is probably the biggest irony of fate in Benin’s modern-era politics. The cotton magnate was the generous financier of out-going president Yayi Boni’s election and re-election campaigns in 2006 and 2011 respectively. However, barely after Yayi’s re-election in 2011—as a result of rigged voting that led to the coining of the term ‘k.o.cracy’ (read ‘democracy by k.o.’), relations between the two men sharply turned sour following Talon’s firm objection to Yayi’s plan to change the Constitution to stay in power beyond his two legal terms. Not only was Talon detained and humiliated for nearly 24 hours at the police station in 2012 for no given reason, he later feared for his life after being alerted by a friend about plans for his imminent arrest ordered by the president. He had to run away, first hidden in the trunk of his car, and later carried on a motorcycle, wearing worn out, dirty clothes, to nearby Nigeria where, after changing in better clothes, he flew to France.
Yet, President Yayi accused him of a phony assassination attempt in order to have him repatriated to Benin. Not only did the French judiciary reject Yayi’s request for Talon’s repatriation, the Benin judiciary also ruled against the president, which forced the judge in charge of the case to seek asylum in the United States to avoid persecution. Even the president’s appeal failed in court.
It took the intervention of several respected African authorities, including the former president of Senegal, Abdou Diouf, for Yayi to “pardon” Talon who eventually returned home, only to face repeated harassment and intimidation—though without fearing again for his life—just a few months before being elected to replace his one-time friend, now staunch enemy, Yayi Boni.