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Benin - 2019 Legislative Election

The political scene is fast changing and independent candidacy is gaining roots in the electoral process. In the 2016 election in Benin Republic, independent candidates dominated the political space with political parties lining behind the independent candidates.

In the previous 26 April 2015 elections, te Cauri Forces for an Emerging Benin coalition (FCBE), supporting President Thomas Boni Yayi, remained the largest party with 33 seats, down from 41. Its ally, the Union for Benin (UB), retained its two seats, thereby giving the pro-presidential camp 35 seats in the 83-member National Assembly.

A proposal to amend the constitution - drafts of which had twice been rejected by the National Assembly - dominated the election campaign, fuelled by speculation that the intention was to lift the two-term limit so President Yayi could seek a third consecutive term in 2016. The opposition forces organized several rallies in protest, pledging to stop constitutional amendments so as to "save democracy". The FCBE, Sun Alliance and Alliance for a Triumphant Benin (ABT) are reportedly supportive of the amendments. Several key figures left the FCBE prior to the 2015 elections, including the outgoing Speaker Mathurin Nago, who formed the United Democratic Forces (FDU) in March in protest against possible constitutional amendments.

Benin President Patrice Talon decided in August 2018 to put his constitutional reform project on hold, arguing that the organisation of a vote would cost too much and was not a priority. "A referendum is expensive and we are a few months away from the legislative elections," said the head of state in a televised speech 01 August 2018 on the eve of Benin's 58th independence anniversary. "The reform initiated by the National Assembly is important, but it is not, for now, a priority issue," Talon said in the address.

The reform, included in Talon's campaign pledges, did not get the required majority when it was considered by the National Assembly at the beginning of July, so was automatically referred to a referendum vote. The reforms included the improvement of women's representation in parliament, the abolition of the death penalty, the establishment of a court of auditors and, most importantly and controversially, the consolidation of all elections. The opposition feared the reforms could give an advantage to the ruling party and potentially extend its time in office.

The people of Benin voted on 28 April 2019 in parliamentary elections where opposition candidates were completely absent, leaving only two parties allied with President Patrice Talon on the ballot paper. Turnout was low after opposition parties, which were excluded from the elections by tough new rules that classed their candidates as ineligible to stand, called on their supporters to boycott the polls in protest. The capital, Cotonou, has seen protests in the past several weeks despite bans on demonstrations, with rights groups warning of a crackdown on democracy. Internet access was restricted or even shut down entirely in some opposition-dominated areas in the run-up to the election.

On the day itself, more than three-quarters of the country's five million registered voters stayed at home. Just 22.99 percent of registered voters cast the ballots, according to preliminary results. Turnout had previously never dropped below 50 percent since the country's transition to democracy in 1990.

The apparent move toward authoritarianism came in a country that was once seen as a model for democracy, with 20 parties taking part in elections five years ago. President Talon, who had portrayed himself as a leader wanting to reform and modernize Benin, has said the new electoral rules on admissibility would simplify the country's political landscape, which features more than 250 parties in a nation of some 12 million people.

Soldiers fired shots and water cannons at protesters in Benin's capital, Cotonou, on 02 May 2019 as security forces began their clampdown on demonstrators angry that opposition parties had been barred from contesting last Sunday's parliamentary election. This marked the second day of widespread protest in the capital, with marchers calling for President Patrice Talon, who was elected in 2016, to step down. Hundreds of protesters have manned burning barricades, defying security forces, as violence broke out following the controversial polls held without a single opposition candidate. Protesters torched businesses, hurled stones, and smashed the windows of government buildings, chanting slogans against President Patrice Talon.

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