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Benin voters choose successor in close run-off vote for president

Benin's Prime Minister Lionel Zinsou has the backing of the president and the main opposition party. But cotton-king Patrice Talon has the support of 24 out of 32 candidates from the first round.

Polls have closed in Benin's hotly contested presidential race

, which features the president's hand-picked successors, Zinsou and Talon, who finished just over 3 percentage points behind the prime minister in the first round.

Presidential candidate Lionel Zinsou (L) is shown cast a ballot during the first round of Benin's presidential election in early March. His competitor, Patrice Talon, is shown on the street campaigning.

Benin's presidential candidates Zinsou (L) and Talon

Zinsou has the support of President Boni Yayi who is stepping down in line with the constitution after serving two five year terms. Yayi chose to abide by the rules, unlike many other African leaders who have sought to amend their respective constitutions to extend their rule.

Zinsou was born in Paris but his father was born in Benin. He was educated in France and England and graduated from the London School of Economics. An economist and a former investment banker, he won the first round of elections earlier this month with 28 percent of the vote.

The main opposition Democratic Renewal Party is also backing Zinsou.

Elections are really something that bring us all together," said Zinsou after casting his ballot. "It's a day of peace and hope."

His opponent, Patrice Talon, made his wealth out of the cotton industry and has tried to paint his opponent as an outsider.

The country of 10.6 million people has 4.7 million eligible voters.

Campaign focus is on economy

Opinion polls showed no clear front-runner

in the campaign, which focused primarily on how best to revive the sputtering economy. Falling oil prices have hit neighboring Nigeria hard and the knock-on effect has taken its toll on Benin's economy.

Watch video 02:18

Benin gearing up for presidential election

Both campaigns have been criticized by civic organizations, who have accused the two camps of allegedly handing out cash in an attempt to buy votes.

There have also been claims of ballot-box stuffing in districts in both the center and north of

Benin, a former French colony.

However, Benin's reputation as a democracy is likely to remain, given that it was the first West African country to move from one party dictatorship to multi-party elections in 1991.

The two candidates participated in Benin's first-ever presidential debate on Thursday.

Zinsou seized the forum to run through his campaign pledges

to cut poverty and improve power supplies and healthcare.

Talon was once a close ally of President Yayi, and seen as his likely successor until the two had a falling-out about five years ago. Yayi accused Talon of trying to poison him.

Election results are expected between late Tuesday afternoon and Wednesday.

bik/jm (AFP, Reuters, AP, dpa)

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