- Benin's national electoral commission (CENA) has announced that Yayi Boni won Sunday's run-off presidential election with almost three quarters of the votes. The 54-year-old, a former banker, will be sworn in as Benin's President on 6 April, replacing current President Mathieu Kérékou.
After none of Benin's grand old men of politics - incumbent President Kérékou and his eternal rival Nicéphore Soglo - were allowed to stand candidate due to their high age, the West African model democracy in two weeks will have a new Head of State, until now mostly unknown in the political sphere of Cotonou.
Mr Boni, who since 1994 has worked in the West African Development Bank (BOAD), is married and has five children. Being a northerner, he was born into a Muslim family but later converted to evangelical Christianity. A trained economist, he has worked within development banking until suddenly turning towards politics last year. Not surprisingly, his election campaign mainly focused on economic reform and a pledge to make Benin's dominant cotton industry more rentable.
Critics say Mr Boni is all too inexperienced when it comes to politics. The President-elect had never been engaged in party politics before he decided to run for the Beninese presidency last year. In a country where the electorate has been tired of marked politicians with large promises but slow development, his lack of political experience may have turned into an asset.
At least, CENA's official results from Sunday's run-off poll indicate that Mr Boni and his non-politician style managed to gather the confidence of a large majority of Beninese voters. The banker gathered a total of 1,969,308 votes, which constitutes almost 75 percent of all votes. Also voter turnout was convincingly high, measured at 67 percent of the electorate. Mr Boni thus may be confident of a broad support.
The inexperienced - and until recently little known - politician however did not manage to win outright in the first poll round, where a total of 26 candidates struggled to become Mr Kérékou's heir in the presidency. No-one managed to gather a needed 50 percent of the votes and Mr Boni and Adrien Houngbedji - a former parliament speaker and well-known politician - heading towards a second poll round.
As is normal in Benin, both election rounds were organised in a peaceful and ordered manner. There were nevertheless registered various irregularities during the process, which CENI claims was due to shortened budgets and a following incapacity to pay for sufficient material and staff during the poll exercise.
Due to organisation problems, Benin's Constitutional Court had ordered a three-day postponement of the run-off poll, but this was ignored by President Kérékou, who ordered the elections to be carried out as planned, on Sunday. Local and international election observers say they have observed several irregularities, but maintain that these did not influence the total outcome and that the poll was held in a free and fair spirit.
Mr Boni's challenger, Mr Houngbedji, today also agreed that the poll had been fair enough to accept its result and did not doubt the CENI's overall conclusion. After 97.20 percent of the votes had been counted and CENI concluded Mr Boni would emerge as Benin's next President, Mr Houngbedji immediately congratulated his rival on the victory. Mr Boni was encouraged by Mr Houngbedji "to get down to work," and he made it clear that CENI's official results would not be challenged in court.
On 6 April, in only two weeks, President Kérékou - who has ruled Benin most of the time since 1972 - will hand over the presidency to Mr Boni at an inauguration ceremony in Cotonou. When the new Beninese President "gets down to work", he will face tough challenges in reforming the country's economy, which is too dependent on low-price cotton exports. The independent will also face many challenges in the varied landscapes of political parties in Benin, where he will depend on a parliamentary support for many of the reforms he will propose.
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