Benin to hold contentious local polls despite coronavirus threat

Critics have called on voters to boycott polls over ballot absence of key opposition parties and coronavirus risks.

An electoral officer holds up a ballot paper during the count of votes after polling stations closed for the presidential election in Cotonou
Voters will head to the polls on Sunday to elect local representatives [File: Akintunde Akinleye/Reuters]

Benin is due to hold local elections on Sunday without leading opposition parties as the authorities push ahead with the vote despite concerns over the coronavirus pandemic and calls for a boycott.

The country has been mired in a political crisis since a disputed parliamentary poll in April last year sparked mass protests.

Parties allied to President Patrice Talon won all the seats at the 2019 polls after a decision by the electoral commission to bar opposition parties from standing in the election because they were unable to meet strict criteria under a new election law to field candidates.

Key opposition parties again find themselves barred from Sunday’s vote for control of 77 councils across the country.

The exclusion drew a legal challenge from top Talon opponent Sebastien Ajavon, a businessman living in exile after he was sentenced to prison on drug charges in Benin.

Last month, the regional African Court of Human and Peoples’ Rights ruled the vote should be suspended as it was not inclusive.

But Benin disregarded the ruling and severed some ties with the court in protest of the decision.

Opponents have called on voters to boycott the poll over the political situation and the risks from the pandemic – to date, Benin has confirmed 339 coronavirus infections and two related deaths.

Many among the electorate appear set to heed the call to stay home given the result is certain to go in favour of those backing Talon.

“We know that the parties in power will score a clean sweep like the last parliamentary election,” student Firmin Armand told AFP news agency.

“There is no point in going to risk your health for an election with little at stake.”

Voters on Sunday will have to follow rules making face masks mandatory and officials insist physical distancing measures will be enforced at polling stations.

Campaigning has been limited to posters and media appearances as candidates were forced to scrap rallies due to a ban on gatherings of more than 50 people.

Source: News Agencies