|Post-Election Reflection: Benin’s 2011 Presidential election|
|Written by Madie Schutte (1) Monday, 04 April 2011 08:12|
On 13 March 2011, the Beninese citizens took to the polls to elect a President. The incumbent President, Yayi Boni, was re-elected to serve a second term in office. This comes after problems with voter registration forced elections to be postponed twice. Claims of election fraud by the opposition have now created a tense atmosphere across the country. This paper discusses the run-up to the election, the electoral process, how the results were received and the expected effects of the election on Benin.
Benin’s political background
The Republic of Benin is a small state in West Africa with a population of 8.5 million.(2) Since the first multi-party election took place in 1991, Benin has had five Presidents. The current President, Thomas Yayi Boni, was elected in 2006. His election introduced a new, younger generation of politicians to the race for power following a succession of long-serving leaders. The focus of Boni’s campaign and his first term was the reduction of corruption within the Government. Benin is considered one of the more stable countries in the West African region, since it has seen peaceful transitions of power and frequent free and fair elections with multiple political parties.
Problems with voter registration and the postponement of the elections
The election was originally scheduled to take place on 27 February 2011, followed by a second round on 13 March 2011 if necessary. However, problems with the new Voter Registration Computerisation Project and pressure from oppositional parties resulted in the election being postponed. It is the first time that an electronic voter list was used in an election in Benin. Opposition leaders called for the first round to be postponed until 6 March 2011 to give the Electoral Commission enough time to address problems with the voter roll.(3)
An estimated 1.3 million people had not been registered by the end of February, raising concerns about the credibility of the voter’s roll.(4) Public protests also took place in relation to the voter roll across the country. A last minute attempt to ensure all eligible voters were registered before election day saw a four day period in which voters could register after the problems were fixed. However, reports of faulty equipment during the final registration period again sparked concerns about the credibility of the Autonomous National Electoral Commission (CENA), as well as all the information relating to the voters. Thus, Beninese voters entered the voting station under a cloud of uncertainty. The first round of the election finally took place on 13 March 2011.
The day of the election
The Constitutional Court announced 14 candidates in the running for Presidential office. The main candidates in the election included current President Boni, President of the National Assembly, Adrien Houngbédji, and Abdoulaye Bio-Tchane, a former President of the West African Development Bank. Campaigning started on 18 February and posters could be seen in all the major cities in the country. Agricultural development and improved salaries for workers were the main issues focussed on by campaigners.
On Election Day, a total of 13,000 polling stations were set up to serve voters.(5) However, the opening of several polling stations was delayed due to the late delivery of voting material, including ballot boxes.(6) The Electoral Commission estimated the total number of eligible voters to be 3.9 million.(7)
Benin’s President is elected by popular vote and is required to receive an absolute majority – more than 50% of the votes – to assume office. Reports of unofficial results surfaced a day after the election, with the Constitutional Court announcing the official results on 21 March 2011. Boni was announced the out right winner, having secured 53.13% of the votes, meaning that no second round would be held. His main opponent, Houngbédji, received 35.64% of the votes.(8) Under the guidelines provided by the Constitution, opposition candidates have five days to contest the Court’s decision if they wish to do so.
Observers from the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) declared the elections free and fair but shared concerns with the African Union (AU) about the late opening of voting stations. Concerns were also voiced over the perceived difference in the interpretation of rules and procedures by the Electoral Commission. Boni apologised to voters for the problems with the electoral list, and added that it would benefit Beninese elections in years to come.(9) Ban Ki-Moon, Secretary-General of the United Nations described the elections as ‘peaceful and orderly.’(10)
Aftermath and claims by the Opposition
Since the first reports of unofficial results indicated a win for Boni, the opposition leader has disputed Boni’s re-election. Houngbédji claimed that the election was not fair due to the incomplete electoral roll and the shortages of ballots. He also alleged foul play by Boni as he reported instances in which ballot boxes were stuffed with pre-stamped ballots and cash payments were made to electoral officers for rigging the poll.(10) Houngbédji called for a second round to tackle the doubts surrounding the election. Members of the oppositional party – the Union of the Nation – tried to prevent the announcement of the official results on 21 March. However, after the official announcement, Houngbédji declared himself President(12), saying “We have won these elections. We will demand what is owed to us.”(13) He also accused Boni of “assassinating democracy in the country.”(14) This is likely to create further tension among supporters of the main candidates, which might escalate into violence and damage Benin’s democratic foundation.
Protests by Houngbédji supporters occurred days after the Court’s announcement in the commercial capital of Cotonou. As a result some protesters, including a high-ranking opposition law-maker, were arrested and all public demonstrations were banned.(15) Leaders of five unions warned that the Court should be careful when making its announcement of the final results.(16) This could indicate that the unions may intend to join in the protests and in doing so it could result in an economic crisis. Boni’s previous term was over-shadowed by reports of his involvement in a pyramid scheme that cost thousands of Beninese their life’s savings. His association with such a scandal has already had an impact on his credibility. The recent concerns voiced by the opposition over the election results and the electoral process, are likely only to add to mistrust of the leader as he starts his second term in office.
Impact of elections on the wider West African region
The dispute over the elections and the rightful President come at a volatile time for the West African region. In the near-by state of Cote d’Ivoire reluctance to hand power over to the newly elected President has resulted in intense violence. There are fears that the protests in the region will incite unhappy Beninese citizens to dispute the results. Although elections in Benin and their aftermath have been peaceful in the past, protests by supporters of the oppositional parties may create an environment of fear and distrust. Violence in Benin could seriously damage chances of economic recovery especially since extensive flooding in 2010 resulted in food shortages and a lower Gross Domestic Product. The actions of the newly elected President and those of the opposition candidates could also have a knock-on impact on the elections to be held in Nigeria in April. The refusal of Houngbédji to accept the results, along with the recent wave of protests against Governments in North Africa could influence voters Nigeria to protest if they don’t agree with election results. This could pose a threat to the stability of the entire region and shatter any chances of improving good governance and the democratic foundations in West Africa. For now, the situation remains tense and the stable future of all Beninese citizens rests in the uncertain hands of the leaders Yayi Boni and Houngbédji.
(1) Contact Madie Schutte through Consultancy Africa Intelligence’s Election Reflection Unit (