Will legislative elections put Benin’s democracy back on track?

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Benin may be emerging from its deepest political crisis since democracy was introduced in 1990. Generally peaceful legislative elections were held on January 8, unlike the 2019 elections, when violent protests against the exclusion of the opposition led to at least four deceased. That crisis tarnishes the image of the country as an example of democracy in West Africa.

Although voter turnout this month remains under (37.79 percent), the elections are the most inclusive the country has held since Patrice Talon assumed the presidency in 2016. They mark the return of the opposition to the political arena after his absence from 2019 legislative polls. The main opposition parties also stayed away from the 2020 communal and 2021 presidential elections.

Seven parties, including three from the opposition, took part in the January vote: the Democrats, the Cowry Forces for an Emerging Benin and the People’s Liberation Movement. Only three reached the 10 percent threshold needed to win seats in the 109-member parliament.

The ruling parties – Progressive Union for Renovation (UPR) and Republican Bloc (BR) – obtained 37.56 percent and 29.23 percent of the vote respectively, winning 81 seats. This gives Talon an absolute majority in Parliament to follow his policies without significant obstacles. Democrats came in third with 24.16 percent and 28 seats.

The Democrats – led by former President Thomas Boni Yayi – disputed the results, filing various appeals before the Constitutional Court. Among the issues they raised is massive voter corruption on election day and ballot-stuffing in favor of both ruling parties.

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Although the Constitutional Court recognized irregularities in some polling stations, it said that “they were not such as to compromise the validity, sincerity and transparency of the ballot”, and rejected the main arguments of the Democrats appeal. The party must continue to use legal channels to avoid electoral violence like the one in 2019 and 2021.

The return of the opposition reinforces the legitimacy of Parliament, ensuring that different political voices are heard in the National Assembly after four years of opposition absence. The deputies of the IX legislature will also have a role in deciding the eligibility of candidates for the 2026 presidential elections, which will mark the end of Talon’s second term. President Announced in 2021 that he would not run for a third term, in accordance with the constitution’s two-term limit.

Candidates for the presidency and vice presidency must be sponsored by at least 16 members of parliament (MPs) and/or mayors. Although the two government parties control 70 of the 77 existing mayorsThe recent election of 28 Democratic MPs increases the chances that opposition candidates will run in the 2026 presidential election.

The presence of the Democrats in Parliament will avoid the scenario around the 2021 presidential election, which was criticized as a foregone conclusion. Many observers interpreted it as a maneuver by Talon to guarantee his re-election by excluding political opponents.

The January National Assembly election is also a significant advance in women’s political representation, with 28 of the 109 seats. assigned women, compared to six for the outgoing Parliament. This important step was made possible by new provisions in the electoral code and the 2019 constitution. The real challenge remains the effective participation of women in decision-making and political life in general, including in political parties. The new Parliament should prioritize updating the 2008 national gender policy.

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After four years of political strain, stakeholders organizing Benin’s 2026 communal, legislative and presidential elections should learn lessons from previous polls. The effectiveness of the controversial electoral and institutional reforms adopted since 2018 should also be reviewed. These include the Digital Code in the Republic of Benin of April 2018, the Charter of Political Parties and the Electoral Code of November 2019.

Although their objective was apparently to clean up the party system, improve elections, and strengthen democracy, some reforms fueled mistrust and deepened the crisis of confidence among political actors. That was because they were adopted by a parliament fully controlled by both ruling parties and led to the exclusion of the main opposition from three consecutive elections since 2019.

This undermined public interest in the elections and the subsequent low voter turnout raised questions about the representativeness of those elected in the last four elections. The ambiguity surrounding certain provisions of the Charter of Political Parties and the Electoral Code has also undermined the credibility of the institutions in charge of organizing elections.

The deputies who were sworn in on February 12 must put the interests of the country first. They must work together to maintain social cohesion, strengthen democracy and the rule of law, and promote Benin’s development.

As a collective, they must also solve the security crisis in the north of the country. That requires reducing the vulnerabilities that violent extremists exploit to gain a foothold. The peace and stability of Benin depend on it.

Jeannine Ella Abatan, Principal Investigator, Institute for Security Studies (ISS) Regional Office for West Africa, the Sahel and the Lake Chad Basin

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(This article was first published by ISS Today, a syndication partner of Premium Times. We have your permission to republish.)

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