Presidential election runoffs rising trend in Africa

Man who came second in first round of Benin poll was once accused of attempting to poison president.

Sunday March 13 2016

President Mahamadou Issoufou in Niamey on Friday. He won the presidential election by 48 per cent. PHOTO | AFP

President Mahamadou Issoufou in Niamey on Friday. He won the presidential election by 48 per cent. PHOTO | AFP 

By CIUGU MWAGIRU
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Following the recent presidential poll runoff in the Central African Republic, Benin and Niger are now set for their own second round elections in what seems to be a rising trend in Africa.

In Benin, serving Prime Minister Lionel Zinsou will face off with Patrice Talon, a tycoon locally known as the king of cotton.

After the presidential poll last Sunday, initial results announced on Tuesday by electoral commission President Emmanuel Tiando, pending confirmation by the country’s Constitutional Court, showed PM Zinsou, the ruling party’s candidate, garnering 28.4 per cent of the vote, while Talon  was close with 24.8 per cent.

In neighbouring Niger, elections saw President Mahamadou Issoufou facing off with jailed opposition leader Hama Amadou.

The latter is a former prime minister and parliament speaker who  heads the Nigerien Democratic Movement, and who is popularly  known as “the Phoenix” for his ability to rise from the ashes even after protracted persecution by the authorities.

CAMPAIGNED BEHIND BARS

Issoufou, 63 — nicknamed the Lion — is  bidding for a second term and won 48.4 per cent of the votes in the February 21 poll, which however failed to produce an outright winner.

Ironically, Amadou, 66, campaigned from behind bars, having been arrested in November last year on his return from exile in France.

The arrest followed his reported role in a baby-trafficking scam, but he says the claims were concocted to thwart his presidential ambitions.

Back to Benin, leading candidate Zinsou, a Franco-Beninese financier, was  last year selected by President Yayi as PM and is widely viewed as his preferred successor.

However,  after spending much of his adult life in Europe, Zinsou is viewed by many citizens as an outsider representing the interests of former colonial master France.

Paradoxically, the outgoing president’s relation with Talon has been curious, to say the least. Talon was once accused of  plotting with Boni Yayi’s niece and a  physician to poison the  President, a claim the former cabinet minister dismissed as  extremely ludicrous.

The authorities arrested the doctor, the niece and Talon but later freed them.

An alarmed Talon fled to France and was only permitted to return last October.

During last Sunday’s poll, he came in a credible second and was followed closely by Sebastien Ajavon, another businessman, who won 23.03 per cent of the votes.

With the final ballot tally that close, and with no candidate having the majority of votes to win outright, a runoff poll was inevitable.

With more than  three million voters out of 4.7 million registered ones having cast their ballots for a staggering 33 candidates, the country is now closer to finding a replacement for the incumbent who has been in power since 2006.

President Yayi is stepping down after two terms in accordance with the constitution.

By respecting the law, Yayi will go down in history as a democratic leader, while also solidifying his country’s reputation as a giant of democracy in tumultuous West Africa.

As the world awaits Benin and Niger runoffs, the countdown has begun for next Sunday’s presidential elections in Congo, which will be held alongside the repeat polls in Zanzibar.

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