Benin prime minister gets opposition support for presidential election

Benin's Prime Minister Lionel Zinsou addresses attendees during the 70th session of the United Nations General Assembly at the U.N. Headquarters in New York, September 30, 2015. REUTERS/Eduardo Munoz

COTONOU (Reuters) - Benin’s prime minister Lionel Zinsou, favored by the president to succeed him in next month’s election, received a boost on Saturday when the leading opposition party also named him as their preferred candidate.

In a ceremony on Saturday declaring their support, leaders of the PRD party described Lionel Zinsou as the “consensus candidate” that would bring prosperity to the tiny West African country whose economy has been hit by a slowdown in neighboring Nigeria.

“With him, Benin can begin to develop,” said Adrien Houngbédji, president of the PRD party.

Zinsou said in December that he was running as the main candidate for the ruling FCBE party, dispelling fears that President Boni Yayi would defy constitutional term limits and seek a third term. He remains that party’s candidate.

Yayi has led the cotton-producing country since 2006. He is barred under the country’s constitution from standing for a third term and the election, scheduled for Feb. 28, is considered wide open.

“This is great support,” said Zinsou, who has said he will focus his presidency on supporting the poorest and most vulnerable, bringing more workers into the formal economy and establish banking systems for agriculture.

“Together we will face great challenges.”

However, earlier this month a group of dissidents from the ruling party, opposition politicians and trade union leaders said Zinsou was a bad choice, in part because he has spent a large portion of his life in France, far away from the realities of Benin life.

He will face competition from a number of candidates, including Sebestien Ajavon, a prominent Benin businessman who announced his candidacy earlier this month, calling for a reduction in youth unemployment, improved access to energy and less corruption.

Reporting Allegresse Sasse; writing by Edward McAllister; Editing by Greg Mahlich