Perhaps you didn't know it, but our home away from home is having presidential elections, too! Benin's president, Boni Yayi, has served two 5-year terms, so it's time to elect a new leader in this young republic. Thirty-three people were in the running, with the first round taking place on March 6.
Elections were originally slated for February 28 but were pushed back one week to allow for distribution of voter cards. By some accounts that I've read, many still hadn't received their cards and were perhaps unable to vote.
Official campaigning began a little over two weeks before the election day and ended on Friday, March 4. With a window of only two weeks to persuade voters, candidate supporters posted billboards and plastered posters all over the city. It wasn't uncommon to hear and then see flatbed trucks loaded with supporters driving down the street, singing and cheering for their candidate. Some tossed money to bystanders to encourage them to vote (for their candidate!). Candidates had rallies and the media, namely television news and radio, also provided coverage of campaigning.
Two weeks of campaigning! What would it be like if the US candidates had only two weeks to campaign? Hard to imagine, I'd say.
Another interesting tidbit is that the land border crossings were closed all day on the day of the election. No one could enter the country after midnight of election day.
We went out on Saturday, March 5 to take some pictures of the posters and billboards. Amazingly, almost all of them were taken down or painted over with gray paint! We found out that, because campaigning officially ended on Friday, March 4, all campaign materials had to be removed.
|This billboard was for the father of one of our students.|
|The plastered posters were a bit more difficult to take down.|
|Election workers post the names of eligible voters at the voting station.|
|The voting booth|
|Here's the ballot, with 33 candidates!|
|To ensure that voters only voted one time, they had to put their thumb print next to their name on the voter list.|
|He has exercised his civic duty.|
|Mom and baby get into the action.|
|Counting the ballots.|
|A tally table for 33 candidates?!|
Preliminary results (not yet confirmed by the constitutional courts six days after the election) indicate that there will be a run-off between the current prime minister and a prominent businessman, although the third place finisher might contest the results. Our local staff and friends tell us that they don't expect violent responses to the results, since historically that hasn't happened here. We hope that is the case!