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Benin goes to the poll despite Coronavirus Threats

Electoral agents and party observers at a polling station in Cotonou, Benin where voters turnout was low.
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The Republic of Benin has held local elections without leading opposition parties as authorities pushed ahead with the vote despite concerns over the coronavirus pandemic.

Benin this week lifted a series of restrictions aimed at curbing the spread of the coronavirus. The virus has so far sickened 339 people and caused two deaths.

However, Sunday’s poll appeared to have been impacted as there was low voters turnout. Benin has been mired in a political crisis since a disputed parliamentary poll in April last year sparked protests.

At the 2019 polls, parties allied to President Patrice Talon won all the seats. This was after a decision by the electoral commission to bar opposition parties from standing in the vote because they were unable to meet strict criteria under a new election law to field candidates. Turnout was only 25 percent.

Opposition parties were again barred from Sunday’s vote and the exclusion drew a legal challenge from Talon’s opponent Sebastien Ajavon. Ajavon is a businessman living in exile after he was sentenced to prison on drug charges in Benin.

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The regional African Court of Human and Peoples’ Rights said the vote should be suspended as it was not inclusive. But the government disregarded the ruling and severed some ties with the court in protest at the decision.

Low voters turnout at the polls

Opponents called on voters to boycott the poll over the political situation and the risks from coronavirus. Campaigning was limited to posters and media appearances as candidates were forced to call off rallies due to a ban on gatherings of more than 50 people.

The autonomous national election commission made face masks mandatory for voters and enforced physical-distancing measures at polling stations. In the north of the country, hydro-alcohol gels and face masks was made avainlable for all voters

In the economic capital, Cotonou, election officials ensured voters were more than a metre (3.3 feet) apart. However, not everyone appeared to have been reassured. In the city’s 5th district election agent Dimitri Assani admitted voters were “few and far between”.

Final results from the polls are expected within a week.