afrol News. 12 January - In the first democratic municipal elections in Benin's history, the ruling party is winning most votes, but the opposition is winning the most important ones. Two oppositional 2001 presidential candidates seem to have gotten their revenge and are the next probable mayors of the biggest city, Cotonou, and the Beninese capital, Porto Novo.
The results of the first round in the 15 December municipal elections were published by the Autonomous National Election Commission (CENA) on Thursday. The Beninese opposition has taken a lead in the two principal cities, Cotonou and Porto Novo, while the pro-government "Movement" seems to be winning the polls in almost all the other municipalities. However, a second round will have to be organised in 175 of Benin's 500 constituencies, it was informed today, thus leaving the final results open.
Opposition victory in Cotonou and Porto Novo is widely assured by the results of the first round. Nicéphore Dieudonné Soglo of the oppositional Beninese Rebirth Party (RB) is set to become the next mayor of Cotonou, the country's biggest city and its economic capital. In the nearby administrative capital, Porto Novo, Adrien Houngbédji of the Renewed Democracy Party (PRD) will become mayor. His victory was already cleared in the first round, where the PRD won 27 of the municipality's 29 seats.
This brings about a desired revenge for the Beninese opposition. Nicéphore Soglo, a retired international banker, had obtained 27 percent of the votes in the first round of the 2001 presidential elections. Charging that the voters' list was flawed, Soglo did not contest in the second round, making re-election easy for President Mathieu Kérékou. Mr Soglo however had defeated President Kérékou once before, in the country's first multiparty elections in 1991, and losing against him again in the 1996 elections.
The first round of the Cotonou poll was the most dramatic of this year's Beninese elections. Mr Soglo faced ex-Trade Minister Severin Adjovi, representing the pro-government "Movement" in a duel that provoked turmoil in an otherwise calm election process. Lack of voter material in Cotonou's 12th ward caused protests and the cancellation of the poll. The CENA chairman was reported to be "stoned by a crowd" at one of the polling stations and had to be rescued by police.
Also Adrien Houngbédji, the upcoming Porto Novo mayor, had been a prominent candidate in the 2001 presidential poll and came in third in the first round with 12.62 percent. Also he decided to pull out of the race for the same reasons as Soglo, letting the next one on the list compete - and lose - against the President in the second poll round. Mr Houngbédji is also president of the Beninese National Assembly.
The pro-Kérékou Movement however saw good results outside the coastal cities, especially in the rural northern parts of the country. Here, in the home and stronghold of the President, the Movement gained more than 80 percent of the votes. In central Benin and the rural southern parts, the results were less decisive, but mostly showing a pro-presidential majority. The opposition however won several municipalities in the central area.
The second round of the municipal poll will be carried out on 19 January, CENA has informed. A spokesman of the commission, Kint Aguiar, today had told the news agency AFP that the number of re-runs would be larger than anticipated. "347 seats from 175 constituencies will be competed for in this second round," he informed. The electoral campaigns were to start tomorrow, Monday.
These municipal elections mark the end of the democratic transition process initiated with the 1991 presidential poll. They are the first free, multi-party local elections since 1960. Benin became a military dictatorship in 1963 and was made into a Marxist one-party state by Mr Kérékou in 1973. In 1990, however, President Kérékou allowed a referendum over the introduction of a multi-party democracy, which was approved. Democracy has since gained foothold, and Benin is seen as an African model state.
Local administration has however until now been designated by the central government. The December municipal elections were therefore a last step in the democratisation process and an important step in an ongoing decentralisation scheme.