A tense run-up to elections in Benin left one dead and several people wounded by gunfire in protests on Thursday in the central city of Save, an opposition stronghold, after troops descended to break up demonstrations. Unrest has brewed as critics of incumbent Patrice Talon say that Sunday’s presidential vote is skewed in his favour with opposition leaders sidelined amid rule changes over who could stand.
Benin was once praised as a vibrant multi-party democracy in an often troubled region, but critics say the country spiralled into authoritarianism after the 2016 election of Talon, a former cotton tycoon and the richest businessman in Benin at the time.
Talon’s first term has been economically successful but some worry that success has come at a steep democratic cost.
A political crisis followed disputed parliamentary elections in April 2019 when parties allied to Talon won all the seats after opposition groups were effectively banned.
An amendment to the electoral law in 2019 also required presidential candidates to be sponsored by at least 16 deputies or mayors.
Twenty would-be candidates handed in documents to run for president in Sunday’s poll, but the electoral commission said only three met the necessary requirements. Talon faces little-known rivals Alassane Soumanou and Corentin Kohoué in the vote. Most would-be opposition candidates accuse the men of propping up unfair elections.
Iréné Agossa, Kohoué’s running mate, takes issue with that characterisation. “For a democratic process like ours, it is absolutely necessary, the presence of the opposition,” Agossa says. “So it was bitterly negotiated and we got it. In the name of peace, in the name of consensus in the name of dialogue.”