Twenty-six candidates, two of them women, are vying for the presidency of the nation of seven million people. The incumbent, Mathieu Kerekou, 73, who seized power in a 1972 coup, and opposition leader Nicephore Soglo, 72, were barred by the constitution, which excludes candidates over 70. Mr Kerekou first held elections in 1991, when he lost out to Mr Soglo, but won back the presidency in 1996 and has held it ever since.
The United Nations ranks Benin 161st out of 177 states in its quality-of-life index. The average income is about 1.70 a day.