Benin Begins Vote Count As Prime Minister Faces Businessman

  • Premier Zinsou edged out Talon with 28% of vote in first round
  • President Boni Yayi pledged to step down at end of second term

Benin began counting votes cast in the final round of presidential elections that saw Prime Minister Lionel Zinsou pitted against Patrice Talon, one of the West African nation’s wealthiest businessmen.

Zinsou garnered 28 percent of the vote in the first round earlier this month, slightly more than Talon, who got about 25 percent. Polling stations opened at 7 a.m. and closed at about 4 p.m. Results may be announced as early as Tuesday, according to the electoral commission.

Lionel Zinsou
Lionel Zinsou
Photographer: Stringer/AFP/Getty Images

Zinsou is a former investment banker and member of the ruling party of the West African nation. Talon, who has made millions of dollars importing fertilizer for the cotton industry, went into self-imposed exile in France after having been accused of conspiracy to poison President Thomas Boni Yayi, a charge he denied. The allegations against him were dismissed in 2014.

Boni Yayi promised to step down at the end of his second term this year, prompting 33 candidates to run to replace him. The large number of candidates split the vote in the first round, preventing anyone from winning a majority. The candidate who came in third on March 6, Sebastien Ajavon, also a multimillionaire businessman, backed Talon.

The $9 billion economy depends mostly on cotton exports and trade with neighboring Nigeria, the continent’s largest economy.

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