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May 2, 2019

Benin police surround ex-president’s home after polls


May 2, 2019

Cotonou: Police in Benin on Wednesday surrounded the home of ex-president Thomas Boni Yayi who led calls for an election boycott, hours after initial results showed a record low turnout in the polls.

Twenty policemen were posted around the property belonging to Boni Yayi, who led the West African nation for a decade until stepping down after his second term in 2016, according to an AFP reporter.

Opposition leaders, barred from fielding any candidates for the parliamentary elections on Sunday, went to the former president’s home to show their support. Many citizens heeded opposition party calls to boycott the polls, with over three-quarters of the five million registered voters staying away.

All candidates contesting the April 28 vote came from just two parties, the Republican Bloc and the Progressive Union, both allied to President Patrice Talon. Late on Tuesday, the election commission chairman Emmanuel Tiando announced that 22.99 percent of registered voters had cast ballots, according to preliminary results.

Turnout has never dropped below 50 percent since the country’s transition to democracy in 1990. The two parties loyal to Talon will share all of parliament’s 83 seats. The Progressive Union is expected to get 47, and the Republican Bloc 36 seats, subject to final official confirmation of results.

Commission chairman Tiando said voting did not take place in 39 of the country’s 546 districts due to "incidents". Civil society groups reported two deaths during polling, out of a total of 206 incidents, including clashes and destruction of election materials. Before 1990, Benin struggled under decades of authoritarian rule. Democracy brought a flowering of political competition -- five years ago, voters could chose from 20 parties.

The small West African state was long held up as a model for democracy. But this year, lawmakers from the ruling party pushed through a new electoral code. The tough restrictions meant not a single opposition candidate qualified to take part.

Following the vote, Boni Yayi and Nicephore Soglo, president from 1991-1996, protested and called for the vote to be annulled. "The people demand the return of democracy," Boni Yayi told reporters on Monday, calling on people to resist the current president. "Talon will walk over our dead bodies." The situation has raised warnings from civil society and rights groups inside and outside Benin.

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