On Sunday 20 March, Benin’s citizens will choose their president in the second round of an open ballot. This election will consolidate the country’s democratic gains and mark the fourth democratic changeover in the country since the advent of multiparty politics in 1990. If the outcome of the first round were difficult to predict, expectations for the second round are even more uncertain. Given the results of the first round and the emergence of two candidates – Prime Minister Lionel Zinsou, who is also the candidate of the ruling coalition, and the businessman Patrice Talon – four key observations can be drawn. The first relates to the organisation of the first round by the Autonomous National Electoral Commission (Commission électorale nationale autonome, or CENA). The commission, which became permanent in 2013, seems to have taken on board lessons learnt in last year’s two elections.
The CENA has shown commendable flexibility by allowing voters who hadn’t received new voter cards to vote in the first round using their 2015 election cards. First-time voters who had not received voter cards were allowed to cast their ballot using their national identity cards.
The CENA has also shown its ability to build consensus by engaging civil society and political parties in the decision to postpone the polling dates, and it has improved its communication by making better use of social media. Another laudable achievement is that the major trends of the election were announced within a reasonable period – 48 hours after the vote. This marks an improvement from the legislative elections of 26 April 2015, where trends were made public five days after the vote.