COTONOU, Benin (AP) — Benin's prime minister and a cotton magnate are leading in the presidential election, but neither has the majority of votes to win outright and they are expected to face each other in a second round, according to preliminary results released Tuesday.
Lionel Zinsou, a French-born investment banker who was named prime minister last year, earned 28 percent of Sunday's vote, according to the election commission. Patrice Talon, known locally as "the king of cotton," came in second with 24 percent. He was followed closely by Sebastien Ajavon, another businessman.
If the results are validated by the Constitutional Court, Zinsou and Talon will participate in a runoff, expected later this month.
More than 3 million voters chose among 33 candidates in this cotton-producing country.
President Thomas Boni Yayi is stepping down after two terms to comply with a constitutional term limit and solidify tiny Benin's reputation as giant of democracy in tumultuous West Africa.
Benin became a democratic leader on the continent when former President Mathieu Kerekou accepted defeat at the ballot box in 1991 and oversaw West Africa's first peaceful shift away from dictatorship.
In power since 2006, Boni Yayi has tried to position himself as a mediator in regional crises, including last year's short-lived coup in Burkina Faso.
His selection of Zinsou as prime minister last year was widely seen as a bid to anoint a successor. But after spending much of his career in Europe, Zinsou has been seen by many as an outsider.
Talon was previously accused of plotting with Boni Yayi's niece and physician to poison the current president, prompting him to flee to France. He was permitted to return last October.
Talon dismissed the allegation as "extremely ludicrous." Authorities arrested the physician, the niece and a former government minister but released all three.