Benin upcoming election clouded by rising concerns
BY MODUPE ABIOLA
EDITING BY LOU SIFA
K.O.cracy (read democracy by knock-out) is a phrase coined by the people of Benin following the 2011 presidential election that then-sitting president, Yayi Boni, won after the first round of voting—allegedly due to irregularities—without the traditional run-off that has produced the winner during each of the half-dozen elections that have taken place in the country since the democratic renaissance of 1990. With the official start today of the two-week campaign leading to the voting on March 6, there is growing fear that another k.o. is in the works to favor Lionel Zinsou, the candidate of the out-going president’s party.
It’s all over the news and across the political spectrum: citing various dysfunctions and outright breaking of the electoral code, opinion leaders and members of the collective of the presidential candidates fear the repeat of what some refer to as “the mess” and others call “the chaos” that preceded the 2011 election, which led to the widely-decried election result dubbed ‘k.o.’
“Baring drastic actions, the upcoming election will be neither transparent, not peaceful,” warned Sacca Lafia, a lawmaker who formerly served as a member of President Yayi’s cabinet and is now backing Patrice Talon, one of the leading candidates. The electoral code requires that the electoral cards be ready and in the possession of the approximately 4.7 million potential voters 30 days prior to the election. That, however, is not the case, because the cards have yet to be printed. But dialogue between the authorities and the voting public has so far helped keep tension in check.
Augustin Ahouanvoébla, president of Cos-Lepi, the government agency responsible for updating the national electoral list and the printing of the electoral cards, met on Thursday, Feb. 11 with a group of candidates to explain the delay in printing the cards and discuss the reasons behind it. The culprit, he said, is the delay in receiving some of the materials that go into the printing of the cards. “Until Monday,” he elaborated, “we could not print more than 50,000 cards a day,” Ahouanvoébla also said. He then firmly promised that “the last voting card will be printed by midnight on Monday, February 15.” This Friday, Feb. 12, the cards are already available in parts of Cotonou, the country’s largest city, to the relief of voters who have received them.
Not least of the problems have to do with the expiration on January 31 of Ahouanvoébla’s mandate as president of Cos-Lepi as well as that of his fellow-members of this crucial body in the electoral process, prompting some of the candidates to call for their resignation. Instead, the Cos-Lepi president, a lawmaker who is a member of the PRD party that supports the candidacy of the out-going president’s candidate, Lionel Zinsou, angers part of the electorate by repeatedly vowing that Zinsou will be elected by knock-out. To many here, that sounds like a provocation.
Despite being shaken by several coups prior to the October 1972 revolution that ushered in an era of 17-year “Marsixt” rule, Benin has not witnessed violent outbursts claiming more than a handful of lives total, unlike the majority of countries in the sub-region.
The country has never been as polarized and divided as it was prior to the 2011 presidential election, as virtually the entire political elite disapproved of the president Yayi’s policies. Benin politicians, who are notorious for appearing unable to unite to face a common political adversary, shocked their compatriots by forming the first ever common front against the president prior to the 2011 election. The broad coalition had the telling name of UN (ONE, in French), the acronym for l’Union fait la Nation (Union makes the Nation.) However, despite the alleged knock-out victory of the out-going president’s party, the ensuing demonstrations, though massive, resulted only in a few wounded and no death. Therefore, the ongoing discussions about postponing the election date by probably a week to pave the way for a hopefully transparent and peaceful election, is in sync with the DNA of a nation with a history of non-violence.