COTONOU, Mar 12 (Reuters) Independent candidate Yayi Boni has emerged as the leader in the first round of Benin's presidential election but the poll looks likely to go to a second round, election officials said today.
With more than 70 per cent of the votes counted from the first round on March 5, Boni, a former head of the West African Development Bank, had nearly 32 per cent, according to the Autonomous National Electoral Commission (CENA).
His nearest challenger, Adrien Houngbedji of the Party for Democratic Renewal, had just over 25 per cent, but as neither appeared likely to gain the required 50 per cent, the election would have to go to a second round.
With 26 candidates standing, the election in the small West African state is being held to choose a successor to President Mathieu Kerekou, a former military ruler who has dominated Benin politics for more than 30 years.
The first round of voting a week ago was dogged by allegations of electoral fraud but CENA officials denied any serious irregularities and West African observers have given the poll a generally clean bill of health.
REUTERS CH RN1712