Businessman Patrice Talon ‘won’ the second round of Benin’s presidential election on Sunday, his adversary and incumbent Prime Minister Lionel Zinsou told AFP before the release of official results.
“The provisional results point to a decisive victory for Patrice Talon,” Zinsou told AFP by telephone. “The difference is significant, (Talon’s) electorial victory is certain.
“I have called Patrice Talon this evening to congratulate him on his victory, wish him good luck and put myself at his disposal to prepare for the handover.”
Some 4.7 million people were eligible to cast their ballots in the vote to elect a successor to Benin’s outgoing President Thomas Boni Yayi.
He is bowing out after serving a maximum two five-year terms, marking him out from many African leaders who have tried to change their country’s constitution to stay in power.
Benin’s electoral commission is expected to announce provisional results at some time on Monday, Zinsou said.
The 61-year-old came out top in the first round of elections held on March 6 with 27.1 percent of the vote, compared to 23.5 percent for Talon.
The prime minister, who was a candidate for Boni Yayi’s Cowry Forces for an Emerging Benin (FCBE), was seen as the frontrunner with the support of most lawmakers in parliament.
But Talon, a 57-year-old entrepreneur who made his money in cotton and running Cotonou’s port, billed himself as the authentic Beninese candidate and repeatedly attacked his opponent’s dual French nationality.
Zinsou, who attended an elite French university and was a speechwriter for the former prime minister Laurent Fabius, has been called a “yovo” or “the white man” during the campaign.
He also took a knock when 24 of the 32 other candidates who stood in the first round came out in support of the businessman, including third-placed Sebastien Ajavon, who won 22 percent of votes.
‘World’s laughing stock’
On Thursday, the two candidates took part in Benin’s first-ever presidential debate in which Zinsou ran through his key manifesto pledges to cut poverty, and improve power supplies and healthcare.
But Talon harped on the record of Boni Yayi, whom he said had created “a banana republic” that had become “the laughing stock of the world”, as well as questioning Zinsou’s knowledge of Benin.
He also launched a string of personal attacks against Zinsou, accusing him of acting like “a governor in a land of savages”.
Talon had portrayed himself as a big-spender and a self-made man in his campaign, turning up for the first-round vote in a Porsche, white open-necked shirt, a fitted suit and sun-glasses.
From humble beginnings in the coastal town of Ouidah, he rose to become one of the most powerful men in Beninese business and bankrolled Boni Yayi’s successful 2006 and 2011 presidential campaigns.
But he fled to exile in France after being accused of masterminding an alleged plot to poison the president in 2012, and only returned last October after receiving a presidential pardon.
His success and taste for luxury have attracted support from many young Beninese, who hope he can create jobs and wealth on a national scale.
His major challenges will be tackling high youth unemployment, corruption and improving health and education in the country of 10.6 million people.
Diversifying an economy that largely relies on agriculture, trade and exports with its neighbour to the east, Nigeria, will also be high on the agenda.