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Benin elections: The fight for a democratic future

Benin elections: The fight for a democratic future

Benin elections: The fight for a democratic future

Early indications show voter turnout was low in Benin’s presidential election,

where polling stations have now closed. In the run-up to the election,

protests over President Patrice Talon’s broken promise to serve only one

term in office left two people dead. After voting himself, President Talon

called on his fellow citizens to come out and vote.

Benin elections: The fight for a democratic future

But opposition campaigners had called for a boycott and streets were quiet on Sunday,

especially in anti-government strongholds. The head of the electoral commission

said most polling stations had opened on time despite opposition supporters

blocking roads to northern and central Benin.

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Who were the candidates?

There were just two other candidates on the ballot, besides President Talon.

Alassane Soumanou of the opposition FCBE party is a former minister,

while Corentin Kohoué is seen as more of a wildcard.

Several key opposition figures – including an ex-prime minister and a

former mayor of the biggest city Cotonou – have either been arrested

and ruled ineligible or are now in exile. But a government spokesman

has told the BBC “no-one is excluded from this election”.

Benin opposition campaigners had called for a boycott

“We do not need every person in Benin to run as candidates in an election

for it to be representative. Once you have the ruling party and the opposition

represented, an election is complete – and the democratic system is operational,”

Communication Minister Alain Arounla said.

What happened in the protests?

Many in Benin question the legitimacy of the election and some fear more violence

could break out, reports the BBC’s Lalla Sy who was recently in Cotonou.

Two people were killed in the town of Savè on Thursday, officials say,

when security forces broke up a protest. Health workers report that another

six people suffered gunshot wounds. Demonstrations also happened in

the cities of Cotonou, Parakou and three other towns.

“We want the president to leave. Five years means five years,

” Cotonou protester Rodrigue Amadou told Reuters news agency.

The authorities have accused the protesters of starting the violence,

saying the security forces were assaulted by drugged and armed youths.

But others say it is an example of how Benin has become more authoritarian

under President Talon’s rule. Some see parallels with the exclusion of all opposition

parties from parliamentary elections back in 2019, which sparked protests where

security officers opened fire on protestors and a mother of seven died after being shot

in the back. Prudence Amoussou became a symbol of those protests, and her sister

Léocadie Cakpo recently told the BBC: “I am deeply hurt in my heart.

I don’t know when I will recover from this. She was my only sister.”

Benin elections: The fight for a democratic future
Benin elections: The fight for a democratic future

What’s at stake for Benin?

Benin was in the vanguard of a new wave of multiparty democracy which

spread across the continent 30 years ago and was dubbed the birthplace

of African multiparty democracy. Those polls in 1991 saw Benin’s former

President Mathieu Kérékou become the first West African leader to admit

defeat in an election. Since then Benin had been regarded as a democratic

model with several African nations replicating its reconciliation body,

the National Conference of Active Forces of the Nation.

But this reputation soured in 2019 when new electoral laws meant a

political party had to pay about $424,000 (£328,000) to field a list for

the 83-seat parliament. That year saw a record low voter turnout.

Benin’s parliament is currently completely controlled by the government,

our reporter says, and the opposition say that their main representatives have

been prevented from taking part in these latest polls, including constitutional

lawyer Joël Aïvo. “In five years, President Talon’s so-called political reforms

have squandered the legacy of the National Conference. Benin no longer

knows how to organise elections,” he told the BBC.

The government says the opposition is represented and the democratic system is working.

In reference to the president breaking his promise to leave office after a single term,

Mr Talon’s communication advisor Wilfried Houngbedji told AFP he had come to

“power with a touch of evangelism” but later “became more realistic”.

Who else was ruled out of the race?

  • Sébastien Ajavon – a businessman who came third in 2016’s presidential election, now in exile
  • Lionel Zinsou – the former prime minister was accused of campaign overspends then barred from running for office for four years
  • Léhady Soglo – ex-Cotonou mayor and son of a former president, now living in exile and sentenced in absentia to 10 years in jail for “abuse of office”
  • Reckya Madougou – presidential candidate for The Democrats party, accused of terrorism
Benin elections: The fight for a democratic future

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