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Last Updated: Wednesday, 1 March 2006, 13:16 GMT
Q&A: Benin votes
Benin President Mathieu Kerekou
President Kerekou is forced to step down because of his age

Voters in the West African state of Benin go to the polls on 5 March to elect a new president for a five-year term.

These will be the fourth presidential elections since the restoration of multi-party politics in 1990 after decades of military rule.

Both the incumbent President Mathieu Kerekou and his long-time rival, former President Nicephore Soglo, are barred from the poll as both are more than 70 years old.

Q: Who is standing?

There are 26 candidates, the highest number in Benin's political history, but political analysts say only four have a serious chance of winning.

Bruno Ange-Marie Amoussou contested the presidency in 1991, 1996 and 2001 and came fourth in all three elections. Mr Amoussou is the candidate of the Social Democratic Party (PSD).

A former planning and development minister under President Kerekou, Mr Amoussou has pledged to "make Benin a modern, dynamic and attractive state which would ensure the promotion of liberties, employment and social welfare".

Adrien Houngbedji is a former Speaker under both presidents Soglo and Kerekou. He is standing for the fourth time under his Democratic Renewal Party (PRD) ticket.

A lawyer by training, Mr Houngbedji started his political career in 1991 as an MP; he has pledged "a new Benin" that will "give hope to our country".

Yayi Boni is a newcomer on Benin's political scene. An evangelical Christian, he comes from one of the country's three influential ethnic groups, the Nago.

Mr Boni is an economist and has vowed to "speed up Benin's development". He describes himself as "the flame of a new, winning Africa".

Lehady Soglo is the son of former President Soglo and was until recently the deputy mayor of the country's main city, Cotonou. He is seeking the presidency on the Benin Renaissance (RB) party ticket.

Observers say he could garner significant backing from RB supporters still nostalgic for his father.

Q: What is the political system in Benin?

Benin is a republic with a strong presidency. Under the 1990 Constitution, the president heads the government, the state and the military and appoints members of the cabinet.

To avoid a second round, the successful candidate must obtain an absolute majority in the first round. Any second round must take place two weeks later and would only feature the top two candidates in the first round. Victory in the second round is by a simple majority.

Q: What are the main issues?

The key issue is the poor state of the country's economy, with UN agencies continuing to rate Benin as one of the world's 20 poorest countries.

Its economic misfortunes have been exacerbated by plunging world cotton prices, mismanagement and corruption.

Rising oil prices and an influx of refugees from neighbouring Togo have added to the burdens.

Q: Have there been any problems?

The voter-registration process - conducted between 21 January and 6 February - has caused controversy.

Some of the presidential candidates complained that the voter lists unveiled by the electoral commission on 26 February were false.

"It is almost impossible that in the space of five years, the population of eligible voters has doubled in Cotonou," AFP news agency quoted candidate Richard Senou as saying.

Also electoral workers in some districts went on strike during the registration process, claiming they were being paid less than workers in other districts.

Q: Who is running the poll?

The Autonomous National Electoral Commission (CENA) is overseeing the vote. The current CENA team came into office in October 2005.

The CENA releases the provisional results, but it is the Constitutional Court which has the power to declare the official results.

BBC Monitoring selects and translates news from radio, television, press, news agencies and the internet from 150 countries in more than 70 languages. It is based in Caversham, UK, and has several bureaux abroad.

Country profile: Benin
01 Feb 06 |  Country profiles

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