The polls close in the parliamentary elections in Benin | electoral news
Polling stations closed in Benin as voters turned to the polls for a parliamentary election seen as a test of democracy in the West African nation.
Opposition parties returned to the ballot on Sunday after being boycotted or excluded from the most recent presidential and legislative elections.
Benin’s image as a bastion of democracy and stability in the region has taken a hit under President Patrice Talon, who went back on his promise not to run for another term and has overseen a crackdown on the opposition since coming to power. in 2016.
Some 6.6 million voters were eligible to participate in Sunday’s elections to elect 109 deputies, including at least 24 women, at least one per constituency, according to a new electoral code.
Seven parties took part in the vote, including the Les Democrates party, linked to Talon’s predecessor and rival Thomas Boni Yayi.
Boni Yayi supporters led protests in 2019 after opposition parties were blocked from the legislative vote for failing to meet strict new eligibility criteria.
“This is the first time since 2019 that the opposition has returned to the ballot, which is significant,” Al Jazeera’s Ahmed Idris reported from a polling station in the country’s largest city, Cotonou.
He said the opposition “needs representation in parliament for its candidates to qualify for the presidential elections,” scheduled for 2026.
“This election has witnessed a low turnout, below the expectations of civil society,” added Idris.
The preliminary results, which are expected on January 11, may also be an indicator of the strength of the various political forces fighting to succeed President Talon.
Talon does not belong to any party, but has the support of the two parties currently in power in parliament: Bloc Republicain and Union Progressiste le Renouveau.
The vote appeared to go without protests like those in 2019 or those that erupted in 2021 against Talon’s decision to seek re-election, said political analyst Expedit Ologou, director of the Beninois Civic Academy think tank for the Future of Africa.
“The atmosphere seems calm, peaceful, friendly, fraternal in most parts of the country,” he told Reuters.
Under Talon, political protests have been met with deadly police violence, while politicized prosecutions and other legal tactics have been used to stifle opposition, Freedom House, the US democracy watchdog, said in a report from 2022.
Talon has denied attacking political opponents or violating human rights.
Regional security may feature higher on voter concerns this election, as Benin, along with neighbors Togo and the Ivory Coast, has seen increasing attacks by armed groups linked to al-Qaeda and ISIL ( ISIS) as violence moves south from Mali’s Sahel countries. , Burkina Faso and Niger.
Insecurity and higher costs of living linked to the war in Ukraine pose a threat to Benin’s recent economic gains, the International Monetary Fund warned last July.
Benin’s agriculture-dependent economy has rebounded since the coronavirus pandemic, growing more than 7% in 2021 and the first half of 2022. But the country of 12 million people remains one of the poorest in the world. world, with a fifth of the population living on less than $1.90 a day, according to the World Bank.
Beyond the opposition push to win back seats in parliament, Sunday’s elections will affect the future of some of the country’s other institutions.
The Constitutional Court’s mandate ends this year, and the composition of the court is crucial as it oversees decisions on elections.
Four judges are appointed by legislators, while the other three are chosen by the president.
Talon, a wealthy businessman, was elected in 2016 and re-elected in 2021.