Benin opposition gets green light for parliamentary elections

Benin’s opposition, weakened by the arrests and exile of its leaders, will be allowed to vote in January’s parliamentary elections, four years after they were banned from voting in the last vote.

Election officials have allowed seven political parties, including three claiming to be opposition, to take part in the January 8 vote for lawmakers.

Benin’s President Patrice Talon, elected in 2016 and re-elected in 2021, has embarked on sweeping political and economic reforms to put his West African country on the development path.

But his modernization program has also been accompanied, according to the opposition, by a major erosion of democracy, with its leaders being prosecuted, imprisoned or exiled.

Among the opposition parties given the green light are the Democrats, who secured a last-minute ruling from the Constitutional Court on Saturday allowing their candidates to run.

“The Constitutional Court wanted to spare Benin a new tragedy by accepting that our party can finally go to the polls,” said Gandonou Eudes, a Democrat activist.

The 2019 general election ended in clashes that left several dead after the opposition banned and security forces violently repressed supporters who took to the streets in the center of the country.

Only the two political parties supporting Talon were allowed to attend.

In 2021, key opposition leaders also failed to participate in the presidential election that saw Talon re-elected, fueling further protests in opposition strongholds.

Two of the president’s main opponents are still in prison, sentenced to heavy sentences.

Reckya Madougou was sentenced to 20 years in prison for “terrorism”, while Joel Aivo – an academic – was sentenced to 10 years in prison in December 2021 for “conspiracy against state authority”.

“We tried to vote in 2019, 2020, 2021 – impossible,” Democratic Party leader Eric Houndete said at a meeting in the capital, Porto-Novo, this week.

Now “our time has come,” he said.

“You have the option to vote to avoid a monochromatic parliament.”

The Cauris Forces for an Emerging Benin or FCBE party and the Popular Liberation Movement or MPL party are the other two opposition movements that will take part.

All three will try to win as many seats as possible in the 109-seat parliament, currently controlled by pro-Talon parties.

“If the parliamentary elections are transparent, the governing parties will not have an easy task,” said Beninese political scientist Expedit Ologou.

For Marie Yaya, a young Democratic activist and former student of opposition leader Joel Aivo, the election should not make us “forget the fate of those still languishing in prison.”