The West African nation of Benin — formerly called Dahomey — holds a presidential poll Sunday, becoming the latest one to do so in a fast and furious spate of parliamentary and presidential elections in a slew of mostly French-speaking African countries.
Sunday’s poll comes nearly a year after parliamentary elections were held in April last year, and is expected to see almost five million voters take part in the first round.
A record 33 candidates, including two women, want to succeed President Boni Yayi, who is stepping down after serving two terms.
The long-awaited poll opens the floodgates for a series of African elections slated for this month.
They include the Republic of Congo and Zanzibar, which will be held on the on March 20.
It will be a truly momentous day for the continent because that is when the second round of the Niger presidential poll and a constitutional referendum on presidential terms in Senegal would also be held.
The stage for today’s poll was set following President Yayi’s decision not to seek an extra term like several of his peers on the continent.
The decision — announced in November last year — put to rest speculation that the incumbent would defy constitutional provisions and seek an extra term.
Moves by leaders to extend their terms in office have triggered unrest in places like Burkina Faso, Burundi and most recently Uganda.
Not surprisingly, the relatively stable Benin has been hailed as the epitome of democracy in Africa and a country “that sets an example to the rest of the world”.
During a recent visit to Benin, Mohamed Ibn Chambas, the Special Representative for West Africa of UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon, said as much.
“Benin has cemented its reputation as a country willing to undertake peaceful transition,” he said.
“That owes largely to national traditions grounded on compromise, awareness of the State and empathy towards others.”
Today’s poll was first slated for February 28, 2016, with a runoff planned for March 13 should it become necessary. As matters stand, should there be no outright winner, there will be a runoff in two weeks.
Among the frontrunners in today’s poll is current Prime Minister Lionel Zinsou, a French-Beninese economist and investment banker who has in the past served as an adviser to President Yayi. Named PM only in June last year, the top contender already faces criticism over his ties to France, where he was born and raised.