Benin held an election on Sunday to choose a successor to President Thomas Boni Yayi who is stepping down after two terms, leaving 33 candidates to vie for power in the small West African country.
Boni Yayi’s decision to relinquish power as mandated by law marks him out from African leaders in countries such as Burundi, Rwanda and Congo Republic who have changed the constitution to pave the way for a third term.
Leading the field is Prime Minister Lionel Zinsou, a former economist and investment banker backed by the president and the main opposition Democratic Renewal Party.
Zinsou has promised to restructure the economy, to create more jobs especially for young people, to aid small businesses and improve access to micro-credit.
Benin produces cotton but its economy is flagging, in part because a fall in oil prices has hit its neighbor Nigeria, a country that is also its largest trading partner. A big choice facing voters is who best can create jobs and improve education.
The country has around 4.6 million voters and the election began slowly in the capital, with small queues of voters forming at polling stations.
“I have just voted. It’s a matter of pride for me to have done my duty as a citizen,” said Clarisse Nibime who voted in the capital.
The election reinforces Benin’s credentials as a model of democracy in sub-Saharan Africa. The country became the first to move from dictatorship and single-party rule to multi-party democracy when it held elections in 1991.
“Benin is a big democracy. With my departure our democracy will take one further step forwards …. I leave the republic with national unity,” Boni Yayi said as he cast his ballot.