Protests expected at Benin’s local elections

Dozens of municipal and communal elections will be held nationwide in Benin today, despite pressure from the opposition to delay

Beninese polling station for last years presidential election

Photo: Yanick Folly / AFP

Dozens of municipal and communal elections will be held nationwide in Benin today, despite pressure from the opposition to delay the vote due to public health concerns. While Benin has only two confirmed deaths from COVID-19, the West African country reported a dramatic spike in cases last week.

Today’s elections are expected to resemble last April’s parliamentary vote, which was widely criticised after all candidates opposing President Patrice Talon were banned, leading to an uncontested election. Extensive protests and boycotts, many called by banned opposition leaders, reduced the electoral participation rate to a record-low 23%.

Large protests and a low turnout are expected again this year, as leading opposition parties have once again been banned from participating. Local police forces have increased security personnel to disperse protests, but violence is likely to erupt as voters express disillusionment with an increasingly authoritarian political system; Benin’s last presidential election featured dozens of competing parties. The widespread expectation that pro-Talon candidates will claim victory—compounded by concerns about the spread of COVID-19—could drive voter participation below 20%.

While Benin has been lauded as a relatively strong democracy in Western Africa since 1991, Talon’s willingness to ban opposition parties from increasingly boycotted elections may constitute the beginning of a significant swing back to authoritarianism.

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