Benin’s Talon re-elected president with 86 percent of the vote

Benin’s president Patrice Talon was easily re-elected to a second term, preliminary results showed on Tuesday, after a critique of the weekend was already piled in his favor following a crackdown on his opponents.

Talon, a cotton magnate who was first elected to lead the West African state in 2016, met two little-known rivals in Sunday’s vote with most of his main opponents in exile or disqualified from driving.

Talon won 86.3 percent of the vote, the Electoral Commission said in announcing preliminary results, while his opponents Alassane Soumanou and Corentin Kohoue received 11.29 percent and 2.25 percent, respectively.

Benin’s constitutional court must verify the final results.

Once famous as a lively multi-party democracy, critics say the former French colony has embarked on an authoritarian path under Talon with a steady campaign against its political enemies.

Three international observer missions had already noted low turnout, although they said the vote was generally peaceful despite tensions and protests in the leadership.

With the 62-year-old sitting almost guaranteed victory, analysts had said that turnout would be an important measure of his electoral success.

Turnout was 50.17 percent, the commission said.

>> Read more: Authoritarian image weakens West Africa’s “model democracy” when Benin goes to the polls

Even before the announcement, the election results for some Beninese meant a bit.

“This choice was just folklore,” says restaurant owner George Kpatchavi. “We are not waiting for the results because they were already known in advance. After the election, everything will be back to normal.”

An association of civil society groups, which deployed more than 1,400 election observers, said in its preliminary statement on Sunday that “attempts to pressure, intimidate, threaten, corrupt or harass voters were observed across the country.”

Protests in the north

Protests had blocked certain roads in the opposition’s strongholds in the center and north of the country ahead of the election, leading to delays in the delivery of election materials.

Two people were killed last week when troops fired live rounds into the air to break up an opposition protest that blocked a major route in the central city of Save.

Benin has seen some economic success under Talon, who promised a “KO” win in the first round of Sunday’s election. Supporters have praised his project to expand electricity and basic services.

But since Talon first came to power, critics say he has used a special economic crime and terrorism court and election reforms as tools to disqualify the opposition.

Reckya Madougou, an opposition leader who was prevented from driving, was arrested last month on charges of plotting to disrupt the vote, a charge her lawyer said was politically motivated.

Earlier this month, a special court judge who ordered her detention said he had fled the country and condemned political pressure to make a decision against Talon’s opponents.

Government officials dismissed allegations that the election was rigged to favor Talon and said that the exiled opposition leaders were trying to get their vote cut short with a smear campaign.