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Benin - Political Parties

The logic of ethnic voting within a system of patron-client relations on the African continent helps define politics for many Africanists. Voters within a given ethnic group have an incentive to elect a politician who identifies with their group and has a certain obligation to redistribute the benefits of the office to his or her supporters. The colonial powers, once they allowed political parties to form, often reinforced the ethnic nature of parties and representation for their own purposes.

No one group comprises more than 25% of the population, and most have less than 5%. With commonalties in region and language, however, there are three important ethnic areas in Benin. The southeast, which borders Nigeria, includes the Yoruba, Goun, and Oum (or Wm) groups. The center, including the former kingdom of Abomey, includes the Fon, the largest group in Benin, and several others. Finally, the north comprises many different ethnic groups such as the Bariba, Peuhl (or Fulbe), and Dendi, with a population that is largely Muslim. At independence this ethnic division was personified in prominent political leaders from each of the three regions who vied with one another for political control, often forming coalitions of two against one that proved unstable.

In 1945 electoral reforms were introduced and there was but one political party, the UPD (Union Progressiste Dahomeenne) which was totally dominated by southerners. In 1947 a new party was formed in Abomey, the BPA (Bloc Populaire Africain) founded by some of the candidates defeated in the 1946 elections. On June 17, 1951 Dahomey elected two deputies to the French National Assembly. The election results were as follows: Union Francaise (Apithy)- 53,463 votes of which 64% came from the Porto Novo region and 2.2% from the North; Groupement Ethnique du Nord (Maga)-49,329 votes- 98% from the North; UPD (Zinsou)-18,410 votes, mainly from the cercle of Ouida. In July Apithy renamed his party The Parti Republicaine du Dahomey (PRD).

The January 1964 constitution was tailored to fit Apithy and Ahomadegbe, President and Vice-President respectively, while former President Maga was in detention accused of plotting to assasinate the two others. Under the January 1964 constitution Apithy and Ahomadegbe formed a new party that received 99.8% of the votes.

The military leader Mathieu Krkou took power after a 1974 coup. He banished the ex-presidents, and instated a Marxist form of government that was to subvert ethno- regional political concerns to the public good. During the period of Krkous rule from 1974 to democratization in 1990, national legislative representatives were chosen according to professional interests, including farmers, artisans, and the military, and these representatives cast their votes for successive Krkou reelections. Ethnic political considerations may have been muted in this period, but they did not disappear.

The Revolutionary Party of the People of Benin (PRPB) remained in complete power until the beginning of the 1990s. Kerekou, encouraged by France and other democratic powers, convened a national conference that introduced a new democratic constitution and held presidential and legislative elections.

  • Alliance for a Triumphant Benin or ABT [Abdoulaye BIO TCHANE]
  • African Movement for Development and Progress or MADEP [Sefou FAGBOHOUN]
  • Benin Renaissance or RB [Lehady SOGLO]
  • Cowrie Force for an Emerging Benin or FCBE [Yayi BONI]
  • Democratic Renewal Party or PRD [Adrien HOUNGBEDJI]
  • New Consciousness Rally or NC [Pascal KOUPAKI]
  • Patriotic Awakening or RP [Janvier YAHOUEDEOU]
  • Social Democrat Party or PSD [Emmanuel GOLOU]
  • Sun Alliance or AS [Sacca LAFIA]
  • Union Makes the Nation or UN [Adrien HOUNGBEDJI]
    (alliance superceded Alliance for Dynamic Democracy or ADD)
  • United Democratic Forces or FDU [Mathurin NAGO]
    note: approximately 20 additional minor parties

Political parties proliferated during the one-year transition period, including parties headed by each of the regionally based ex-presidents. The new political party charter stipulated that parties could not be formed on ethnic or other corporate principles, but must have a national character, including members from multiple regions of the country.

Five years after the transition, Soglo had earned a reputation as arrogant and high-handed president, and faced allegations of nepotism. Though he remained technically independent of party politics at first, he was supported by the political party Renaissance du Benin (RB), which featured his wife, Rosine Soglo, among the leaders. Furthermore, the 1994 devaluation of the CFA franca decision made in cooperation with the other CFA franc zone countrieswas very unpopular at the time.

In both 1991 and 1996, Soglo held sway in the central Abomey region, which is populated by fellow Fon. But areas of the southeast and southwest switch their allegiance to Krkou by 1996, enabling him to win 52.5% in this second head-to-head contest. Ethnic Goun and Oum supporters of the third place candidate Adrien Houngbedji, of the Parti du Renouveau Dmocratique (PRD), changed allegiance to the candidate who could offer the greatest opportunity to their ethnic entrepreneur. Indeed, Houngbedji was rewarded by Krkou for his loyalty with the newly created post of Prime Minister.

In 2001, the main opposition candidates, including Soglo and Houngbedji, refused to participate in the second round of elections because of election irregularities. The main opponent was perennial fourth-place finisher Bruno Amoussou, of the Parti Social Democrate (PSD).

Krkou defeated him soundly in the 2001 second round runoff with over 83% of the vote. By the 2003 legislative elections, Krkou had consolidated legislative support in a movement rather than a party: the Mouvance Presidentielle (MP).

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