Businessman Patrice Talon is thought to have won a second run-off presidential election after Benin's Prime Minister Lionel Zinsou conceded defeat following the release of provisional results
"The provisional results point to a decisive victory for Patrice Talon," Zinsou told Agence France Presse over the phone. "The difference is significant, [Talon's] electoral victory is certain.
"I have called Patrice Talon this evening to congratulate him on his victory, wish him good luck and put myself at his disposal to prepare for the handover."
Zinsou is bowing out after serving a maximum two five-year terms as prime minister, marking him out from many African leaders who have tried to change their country's constitution to stay in power.
The country has 10,6 millions citizens, some 4.7 million people were eligible to cast their ballots in the vote to elect a successor to Benin's outgoing President Thomas Boni Yayi.
The prime minister, who was a candidate for Boni Yayi's Cowry Forces for an Emerging Benin (FCBE), was seen as the frontrunner with the support of most lawmakers in parliament.
While the first run-off vote took place on March 6 as any candidates won an outright majority. Zinsou and Talon were competing in a second-round run-off and the provisional results overnight show that Talon 64.8 percent of the vote, against 35.2 for Zinsou.
Benin's electoral commission is expected to announce provisional results at some time on Monday, Zinsou said.
Zinsou, a former economist and investment banker, backed by outgoing President Thomas Boni Yayi and the main opposition Democratic Renewal Party, was an early front-runner in the election after winning the first round of voting.
He attended an elite French university and was a speechwriter for the former Prime Minister Laurent Fabius.
The 61-year-old came out top in the first round of elections held on March 6 with 27.1 percent of the vote, compared to 23.5 percent for Talon.
Meanwhile, he endeavoured to overcome the perception that he had spent most of his professional life in France, being seen an outsider in his own country.
As to Talon, a 57-year-old entrepreneur gaining money from cotton and running Cotonou’s port, portrayed himself as a big-spender and self-made man in his campaign stressing his strong roots with his country. He repeatedly attacked his opponent’s dual French nationality.
Talon was not immediately available to comment. He was a loyal supporter of Yayi before falling out of favor. Yayi later accused him of involvement in a plot to poison him.
Mediation efforts led to a presidential pardon, however, and Talon returned from exile in France in October.
One winner, many hopes
The two candidates took part in Benin’s first presidential debate on Thursday. While Zinsou pledged to cut poverty, and improve power supplies and healthcare, Talon criticised outgoing president Boni Yayi and questioned Zinsou's knowledge of Benin.
He also launched a string of personal attacks against Zinsou, accusing him of acting like "a governor in a land of savages."
From humble beginnings in the coastal town of Ouidah, Talon rose to become one of the most powerful men in Beninese business and bankrolled Boni Yayi's successful 2006 and 2011 presidential campaigns.
But he fled to exile in France after being accused of masterminding an alleged plot to poison the president in 2012, and only returned last October after receiving a presidential pardon.
His success and taste for luxury have attracted support from many young Beninese, who hope he can create jobs and wealth on a national scale.
His major challenges will be dealing high youth unemployment, corruption and improving health and education in the country of 10.6 million people.
Diversifying an economy that largely relies on agriculture, trade and exports with its neighbour to the east, Nigeria, will also be high on the agenda.