Election authorities have allowed seven political parties, including three claiming to be opposition, to participate in the vote for lawmakers on January 8.
Benin’s president, Patrice Talon, who was elected in 2016 and then re-elected in 2021, has implemented sweeping political and economic reforms to put his West African country on a path to development.
But his modernization program, according to the opposition, has also been accompanied by a significant erosion of democracy, with its leaders being prosecuted, imprisoned or exiled.
Among the opposition parties given the green light are the Democrats, who won a last-minute ruling from the Constitutional Court on Saturday allowing their candidates to run.
“The Constitutional Court wanted to spare Benin another tragedy by accepting that our party can finally go to the elections,” said Gandonou Eudes, an activist for the Democrats.
Legislative elections in 2019 ended in clashes that left several people dead after the opposition was banned and security forces violently repressed its supporters who took to the streets in the center of the country.
Only the two political parties that supported Talon were allowed to participate.
In 2021, the main opposition leaders also did not participate in the presidential ballot that saw Talon re-elected, leading to more protests in opposition strongholds.
Two of the president’s main opponents are still in prison and have been sentenced to heavy sentences.
Reckya Madougou was sentenced to 20 years in prison for “terrorism” in December 2021, while Joel Aivo – an academic – was sentenced to 10 years in prison for “conspiracy against state authority”.
“We tried to get on the ballot in 2019, 2020, 2021 — impossible,” Democrat party chief Eric Houndede said at a rally this week in the capital Porto-Novo.
Now “our time has come,” he said.
“You have the opportunity to choose, to avoid having a one-color parliament.”
The Cauris Forces for an Emerging Benin or FCBE party and the Popular Liberation Movement or MPL party are the two other opposition movements that will participate.
All three will try to win as many seats as possible in the 109-member parliament, currently controlled by pro-Talon parties.
“If parliamentary elections are transparent, the parties in power will not have an easy task,” said Beninese political scientist Expedit Ologou.
For Marie Yaya, a young Democrat activist and former student of opposition leader Joel Aivo, the election should not make us “forget the fate of those who still languish in prison”.
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