Benin votes in Parliamentary Election

President Boni Yayi looking to break the opposition`s grip on legislature.

Cotonou: Benin voted in Parliamentary Elections on Saturday with President Boni Yayi looking to break the opposition`s grip on the legislature following his disputed re-election last month.

The vote in the small west African nation comes after March 13 Presidential Elections won by Yayi, but which were disputed by his main challenger, Adrien Houngbedji, who alleged widespread fraud and claimed victory for himself.

Polling stations were scheduled to open at 0600 GMT, but delays were reported at some stations around the economic capital Cotonou as they waited for voting material to arrive. Polls are set to close at 1600 GMT.

Some 3.6 million people are eligible to vote to choose 83 lawmakers.

Yayi is seeking to end the opposition`s majority in Parliament. He and his allies control 34 seats compared to the opposition`s 49.

The opposition, however, hopes the vote proves it maintains wide support throughout the former French colony of about 9.3 million people.

The coalition that backed Houngbedji, Build the Nation Union, wants voters to use the Parliamentary Elections "to sanction the regime that stole victory from us”, said Lazare Sehoueto, an official with the coalition.

Yayi spokesman Marcel de Souza said their camp hoped to see an "overwhelming majority that would confirm the Presidential Election results."

That would allow the Parliament to "pass the reforms necessary for the development of the country”.

Benin, perhaps best known as the heartland of voodoo, has an economy that relies on its port, cotton cultivation and commerce with its giant, oil-rich neighbour Nigeria. Poverty is widespread.

Economic growth slowed from five percent in 2008 to 2.7 percent in 2009, according to the World Bank. Estimates for 2010 growth have been put at 2.5 percent, the IMF has said.

Benin was also the hardest-hit by devastating west African flooding last year, according to the United Nations.

In Benin alone, floods destroyed 55,000 homes, killed tens of thousands of livestock and affected some 680,000 people, the UN said. At least 46 people were reported dead.

Yayi, a 58-year-old economist who worked at the Central Bank of West African States, was seen as a symbol of change when he first took office in 2006, but has since been weighed down by a series of corruption scandals.

The most prominent involved an alleged Ponzi scheme by a firm he was accused of assisting.

The scheme, reminiscent of the Bernard Madoff scandal in the United States, left scores of people in financial ruin and prompted calls for Yayi to be tried for allegedly favouring the company, ICC Services. Yayi denies any wrongdoing.

He defeated Houngbedji in the first round of the presidential vote by a score of 53 percent to 36 percent. Houngbedji alleged fraud and did not attend Yayi`s swearing in ceremony.

Houngbedji, who has run for President five times, was backed by many of the country`s traditional political elites in the March election.

Official results are not expected for at least a couple days.

Bureau Report

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