Benin delays presidential poll to review lists

Reuters News
Posted: Mar 18, 2011 4:10 PM
Benin delays presidential poll to review lists

By Samuel Elijah

COTONOU (Reuters) - Benin's top legal body has authorized a one-week delay to this weekend's presidential election so that complaints about voter cards and election lists can be resolved.

The poll, due to take place on Sunday having already been rescheduled once, will now be held on March 13, according to a decision reached by Benin's Constitutional Court on Friday and seen by Reuters.

President Boni Yayi must approve any delay, but his spokesman had said earlier on Friday that he would support it. Parliament had also passed a law to correct errors in the voter lists.

Benin, a top regional cotton producer with a population of 9 million, is one of the few countries in Africa's "coup belt" to have successfully held free and fair elections, winning international praise.

But many voters and opposition parties had complained that millions had been unable to register for the election, or had yet to receive voter cards, and the African Union and the United Nations on Thursday called for a delay.

The poll was originally set for February 27, then postponed to March 6.

Opposition parties said the registration lists omitted nearly 1.3 million potential voters.

"Since the start of the distribution of electoral cards, we have been waiting our turn to get one, but no one is here to explain why we don't have them," said Leilatou Aboudou, a voter in the Godomey district near Cotonou.

Maximilian Tossa, in charge of a polling station in a district in Cotonou, said:

"With an incomplete electoral list, voters without cards, and equipment not delivered, it is unthinkable that we can hold elections on Sunday."

The court decision said the delay had been authorized to ensure that an orderly election could be held.

Spokesman Marcel de Souza said the president was in favor of a postponement as long as the constitutional period of his mandate, which ends on April 5, was respected.

"Our candidate is committed to the constitutional deadline but if an extension is necessary, he will respect it," de Souza told a news conference.