Fishing in Cotonou, Benin’s largest city. Photo credit: Flickr/Mark Fischer (CC BY-SA 2.0) https://bit.ly/381jxqI
Freedom House Rating
Partly Free (down from Free in 2020)
April 2024 (due)
April 2025 (due)
April 2026 (due)
April 11, 2021
May 17, 2020
April 28, 2019
Benin held a presidential election on April 11, 2021. Incumbent Patrice Talon won a second term after keeping all serious opposition off the ballot.
Benin, previously a model democracy in the region, has seen democratic decline since Talon’s election in 2016. Freedom House consequently downgraded the country from Free to Partly Free in 2020.
In that vein, the April 2019 parliamentary elections raised serious concerns. Opposition candidates were barred from running, and only two parties, both loyal to Talon, won seats in parliament – Union Progressiste won 47 seats, and the Bloc Républicain won 36. Authorities detained opposition figures, including former president Thomas Boni Yayi, whose detention led to protests and civil unrest – met with gunfire from the security services.
While Yayi was subsequently freed and allowed to leave the country, other opposition figures remain imprisoned. Former prime minister and current opposition figure Lionel Zinzou has been barred from running in any election in the next four years – including next year’s presidential election.
The 2020 local elections, which took place in May 2020 over the objections of many Beninese in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic, continued the process of shrinking the political space. For example, only one opposition party – Forces Cauris pour un Bénin Emergent (FCBE) – participated, winning a majority in seven out of Benin’s 77 municipalities.
The 2021 Election – Devoid of Serious Opposition Candidates
Many feared that the 2021 presidential election could take place without any candidates other than Talon on the ballot. Importantly, a new electoral law, adopted in late 2019, says that all presidential and vice presidential candidates must be sponsored by 16 members of parliament or mayors. Since the opposition has no representation in parliament, and does not hold 16 mayoral offices, it will therefore be very difficult for any candidates other than Talon to meet the requirements to run for president.
Although 20 potential candidates sought ballot access, Talon only faced two challengers: Alassane Soumano from FCBE (the only opposition party that did not boycott the 2020 local elections) and independent candidate Corentin Kohoue. However, opposition figures allege that the vote is rigged heavily in favor of Talon.
Meanwhile, a crackdown on online media is further reducing the political space.
Curated News and Analysis
BBC (December 12, 2021): Reckya Madougou: Opposition leader jailing damages Benin democracy – lawyer
AFP (December 11, 2021): Benin opposition leader Reckya Madougou sentenced to 20 years in prison
Jean de Ruyt, Emerging Europe (August 9, 2021): The EU must stand for justice and democracy in Benin
Camille Malplat, AFP (July 23, 2021): Benin’s opposition goes into hiding
Tyson Roberts, Washington Post (May 7, 2021): Benin continues to slide toward autocracy
Christina Cottiero, Washington Post (May 3, 2021): Benin’s militant problem may worsen after last month’s election
Mark Duerksen, The Africa Center for Strategic Studies (April 27, 2021): The Dismantling of Benin’s Democracy
Virgile Ahissou, Australian Associated Press (April 14, 2021): Benin president Talon wins re-election
Camille Malplat, AFP (April 13, 2021): Feared and revered: Patrice Talon, Benin’s ‘King of Cotton’
Rogatien Biaou, Mail and Guardian (March 21, 2021): Benin’s democratic crisis is deepening, but no one is paying attention
Africanews/AFP (March 2, 2021 – in French): Benin: Two opponents of President Patrice Talon jailed
Jean-Luc Aplogan, RFI (December 8, 2020): Catholic Church intercedes with President Talon on sponsorships for the presidential election
Kizzi Asala with AFP, Africanews (October 10, 2020): Benin: Elections Without Credible Opposition Sees Democratic Setback
Committee to Protect Journalists (August 4, 2020): Benin regulator orders online media ‘without authorization’ to halt publication
Josu Mehouenou, AFP (July 17, 2020): Benin crackdown on online media fuels press fears
Jeannine Ella Abatan and Michaël Matongbada, Institute for Security Studies (May 27, 2020): Benin’s local elections further reduce the political space – Controversial electoral laws and the opposition’s likely absence from the 2021 presidential polls threaten democracy.
Tyson Roberts, Washington Post (May 10, 2019): Why did many voters boycott Benin’s April 28 elections?
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Updated January 15, 2022