People in Benin have started casting their ballots in elections to replace President Thomas Boni Yayi, who is stepping down after serving two terms in office. Polling stations in the French-speaking tiny West African state opened at 07:00 a.m. local time (0600 GMT) on Sunday and will close at 04:00 p.m. (1500 GMT).
The voting was to take place on February 28, but it was rescheduled because of delays in the production and distribution of millions of voters’ cards. Mathieu Boni, an official from a civil society group with thousands of election observers, said “more than half” of the almost 8,000 polling stations across the country opened on time.
A total of 33 candidates are vying in Sunday’s presidential polls. Lionel Zinsou, the Franco-Beninese financier who was a speechwriter for France’s former Prime Minister Laurent Fabius in the 1980s, is widely viewed as Boni Yayi’s chosen successor.
Two of Benin’s leading businessmen, “The King of Cotton” Patrice Talon and “The Chicken King” Sebastien Ajavon, are also seen as front-runners. A witness said the election began slowly in the capital with small lines of voters forming at polling stations.
Farmer Emile Sosa, who also voted in Benin’s business capital Cotonou, said, he expects the next president “to encourage the youth to take to agriculture.” Creating jobs, tackling corruption and improving health, education and economy are among key issues facing the next president in Benin, a major cotton producer.