Benin's Talon takes tough line after re-election win

His remarks showed little sign of reconciliation after the former cotton magnate won 86.3% of the votes in Sunday's election when he faced two little-known opponents.

Benin President Patrice Talon sanitises his hands as he arrives to cast his ballot at the Charles Guiyot Zongo public school on May 17, 2020 as voting operation are under way for the local election. Picture: Yanick Folly / AFP.

COTONOU, Benin - Benin's President Patrice Talon took a tough stance on Wednesday vowing to track down those responsible for violence in opposition protests after he was re-elected in a vote critics say was stacked in his favour.

Talon, 62, promised more economic development programmes after re-election and he appears clear of challenges for now with his major rivals sidelined or exiled from a West African country once praised as a beacon of multi-party democracy.

His remarks showed little sign of reconciliation after the former cotton magnate won 86.3% of the votes in Sunday's election when he faced two little-known opponents.

Last week two people were killed by gunfire and five more wounded when troops opened fire in the air with live rounds to clear an opposition protest blockading a major highway in the centre of the country.

Government officials say security forces were responding after they came under fire.

Talon visited a hospital on Wednesday to meet with some of the security force members who officials say were wounded.

"We have reached unacceptable levels in the republic and we will do everything to ensure that it never happens again," Talon told reporters.

"First, identify all those who were instigators, perpetrators in one way or another so that they are accountable for their actions."

Benin's interior minister, Sacca Lafia, said 21 security force personnel were injured after being "violently attacked by individuals with hunting rifles and weapons of war."

  • Political pressure -
    Once hailed for its vibrant pluralism in an often troubled region, critics say Talon has steered the former French colony into authoritarianism with a steady crackdown on his opponents.

Some left Benin while others were disqualified from running by electoral law reforms or targeted by a special court critics say Talon has used as a political tool.

One Benin opposition leader was detained last month on accusations of plotting to disrupt the vote with terrorism, a charge her lawyer said was politically motivated.

Earlier this month, a judge from the special court that ordered her detention said he had fled the country, denouncing political pressure to make rulings.

Some opposition figures had called for a boycott of the election.

"Opposition supporters shunned the ballot, either out of fear... or lack of motivation following a call to boycott the vote, or disgusted by a government that inspires neither confidence nor enthusiasm," said Corentin Kohoue, one of the two rivals in the election, acknowledging defeat on Wednesday.

Official turnout was 50.17%, the electoral commission said, rejecting a much lower estimate of 26% given by a platform of civil society organisations.

Voting could not take place in 13 of the country's 546 districts, the commission said, after protesters blocked major roads in the centre and north, delaying the dispatch of electoral material

DIALOGUE

The United States embassy in Benin said in a statement that it was "disappointed that polling centres in some areas were unable to open," and that it "remains concerned about electoral competitiveness and declining participation."

Three international observer missions also noted a low turnout, though they said the vote generally went ahead peacefully.

Expedit Ologou, a Benin-based researcher, told AFP Talon now has three options.

One would be a hardline which may radicalise the opposition. A second option would be taking a middle ground to talk to a few opponents to show some dialogue, or finally appeasement to enter into negotiations.

"This last option seems the least plausible to me, when we know the regime in place," Ologou said.

For Nadia Nata, an independent political analyst, dialogue is urgently needed.

"The social divisions are real, there are wounds to be healed... These divisions will only worsen if we don't sit at a table and start a dialogue."

"If there is no dialogue, the crisis will worsen. Some say there is no crisis, that everything went well, but we cannot deny what happened and say there isn't a crisis."

Talon's supporters cited his economic programmes for better water supplies, electricity, basic services and roads as key reasons for his success.

But in the country's economic capital Cotonou, there was little celebration in the streets after the results were announced.

On Twitter, Talon wrote: "Thank you all, development is here."

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