Freedom House Rating
Partly Free (down from Free in 2020)
March 2021 (due)
April 2023 (due)
June/July 2021 (due)
May 17, 2020
April 28, 2019
March 6, 2016
Benin is due to hold a presidential election in March 2021. Incumbent Patrice Talon will likely run for a second term, and he could be the only candidate on the ballot.
Benin, previously a model democracy in the region, has seen democratic decline since the 2016 election of President Patrice Talon. Freedom House consequently downgraded the country from Free to Partly Free in 2019.
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.
Many fear that the 2021 presidential election could take place without any opposition candidates. 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 be very difficult for any candidates other than Talon to meet the requirements to run for president.
Meanwhile, a crackdown on online media is further reducing the political space.
Curated News and Analysis
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 October 12, 2020