Cotonou (AFP) - Benin's presidential election looks set to be a second round run-off between Prime Minister Lionel Zinsou and businessman Patrice Talon, the country's electoral commission indicated on Tuesday.
Zinsou won 28.4 percent of votes in Sunday's first round, with Talon on 24.8 percent of ballots and business leader Sebastien Ajavon third with 23.03 percent in a record field of 33 candidates.
Electoral commission president Emmanuel Tiando announced the polling in the early hours of Tuesday. Confirmed results from the first round will come from the Constitutional Court.
President Thomas Boni Yayi is bowing out after serving a maximum two five-year terms, marking him out among some African leaders who have tried to change constitutions to ensure third terms.
A second-round ballot appears likely within a fortnight of official confirmation of the first-round result because no candidate managed a majority.
Boni Yayi's mandate expires on April 6.
Talon's spokesman Oswald Homeky told AFP he was "happy the Beninese understood the new departure we're proposing".
They were "ready to talk to everyone and especially Ajavon" before the second round, he added.
Zinsou's spokesman Eric Houndete, the deputy head of the national assembly, said they were "satisfied" with the prime minister's polling, even though they would have liked to have had more votes.
Turn-out was poor in some areas, he added. The electoral commission said 64 percent of the 4.7 registered voters cast their ballot.
The election was postponed from February 28 because of problems distributing new voters' cards. But international observers said there were no major incidents.
The West African bloc ECOWAS, which has 120 monitors on the ground, said on Monday evening said it was a "free and transparent" vote.
Zinsou, 61, was appointed prime minister last year after a successful career as head of France's biggest investment bank.
But despite having French-Beninese citizenship, he has had to face criticisms of being an outsider, "parachuted" in by Paris, the former colonial power.
Talon, 57, has long been a key player in Benin's economy, in particular in the cotton sector and the port in the commercial hub of Cotonou.
He gave financial backing to both Boni Yayi's presidential election victories in 2006 and 2011 but fell out with the head of state after being implicated in a bizarre poisoning plot in 2012.
Talon fled into exile in France but Boni Yayi pardoned him in May 2014.
Key issues in the election include urgent job creation, tackling corruption, improving access to health and education and the economy in the country, which is a major cotton producer.
Despite its problems, largely agricultural Benin, which is dwarfed by Nigeria to the east, has been seen as a relatively stable country in often turbulent west Africa.
The major centre of the voodoo religion is now promoting itself as a major regional shipping hub. It introduced multi-party democracy in 1990 after nearly two decades of military rule.