President Kerekou re-elected in Benin

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IRIN - Benin, 25 March - The Beninese Electoral Commission has announced the landslide victory of incumbent President Mathieu Kerekou by 84 percent of the poll in the election's second round. Kerekou was expected to win, as only the fourth place candidate Bruno Amoussou from the first round had agreed to face off against him.

Benin's second round of voting was held on Thursday (22 March), after having been postponed several times in lack of candidates. The process had come to a crashing halt after the runner-up and third place candidate in the first round, held on 4 March, withdrew from further rounds. 

In the first round, Kerekou received 45.42 percent of the votes against runner-up Nicephore Soglo's 27.12 percent. Charging that the voters' list was flawed, Soglo said he would not contest further rounds unless the problems were resolved. Following Soglo's withdrawal, the Constitutional Court named Adrien Houngbedji, who came in third in the first round with 12.62 percent, his second round successor. But then Houngbedji followed Soglo's lead and decided to pull out of the race for the same reasons. Fourth place candidate Bruno Amoussou finally agreed to face off against Mathieu Kerekou.

The National Autonomous Electoral Commission (CENA) yesterday evening announced the results from the second round, giving a clear victory to the incumbent president. Challenger Bruno Amoussou quickly conceded defeat and congratulated Kerekou on a "clean victory". Amoussou had won 8.59 percent of the vote in the first round and was given almost no chance of winning as he had already called on his supporters to vote for Kerekou after the first round results were announced.

The turnout for the second round of voting was, as expected, low, CENA confirmed. There were even reports saying that in Cotonou, only a trickle of people went to the polling stations. This was in contrast to the queues seen in town in the first round.

Voters seem to have agreed to the arguments of Nicephore Soglo and Adrien Houngbedji, which had described the election as a "masquerade" and kept away from the poll. Also the Beninese press has contributed to alienate voters to the electoral process in the country, giving a highly negative account of what now appears to be something of a national embarrassment.

Leading opposition candidate Nicephore Soglo after the first round had decried the fact that CENA and the Constitutional Court were operating from vastly different lists of electors. The Constitutional Court is the body charged with verifying the regularity of the elections and releasing the final results. The Court had eliminated some 300,000 votes "after necessary adjustments". 

Soglo sent a letter to the Constitutional Court, asking that the discrepancies between the voters' lists be resolved prior to the second round. He also asked the Court to annul the first round because of the irregularities. But last week, the Court rejected these requests and Soglo thus pulled out of the presidential race. 

Adrien Houngbedji, who came in third in the first round with 12.62 percent, was named Soglo's second round successor. But Houngbedji, who is also president of the National Assembly, decided to pull out of the race for the same reasons as Soglo. "Nicephore Soglo's reasons for getting out haven't gone away," Houngbedji said. "The voters' lists have still not been reconciled. The massive fraud which has taken place will only be repeated. Under these conditions, the only real choice is to follow in Soglo's footsteps and withdraw."

Nine members of the National Autonomous Electoral Commission (CENA) and the Constitutional Court have resigned after the fierce critics against the bodies for giving out false results. Although Benin often is praised by the international community for its model transition toward democracy, the 2001 election has been a setback in that process.

Kerekou, the survivor
Mathieu Kerekou now is set for his second and last five-year term as President of the Republic of Benin. He has however dominated Beninese politics for almost 30 years. Kerekou first seized power in a military coup in 1972.

General Kerekou ruled the country for 17 years as a Marxist dictator prior to introducing multi-party elections in 1991. Benin is one of the few West African countries that have had peaceful transfers of political power in the last 10 years. 

With an electorate eager for change, Soglo, a retired international banker, swept Kerekou from power in Benin's first election in 1991. Kerekou made history in peacefully accepting his defeat and leaving power to Soglo. 

Five years later, in 1996, the fight was again between Soglo and Kerekou, but Kerekou regained his ascendancy at the polls. In the 2001 elections, Soglo and Kerekou were both running for their second and final term. Both made the fight against corruption their most important campaign slogan in the first round. Texts and graphics may be reproduced freely, under the condition that their origin is clearly referred to, see Conditions.

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