Benin’s opposition has returned to parliament after a four-year absence, winning 28 seats in elections dominated by President Patrice Talon’s allies, according to preliminary results.
Sunday’s election was a test for the West African state where Talon has promoted development, but critics say his programme has come at a cost to Benin’s once thriving multiparty democracy.
The main opposition party Les Democrates won 28 seats, while the Republican Bloc (BR) and Progressive Union for Renewal (UP-R) parties allied with Talon together won 81 seats, the CENA electoral authority said on Wednesday.
None of the remaining four parties competing for the 109 seats gathered enough votes to meet the 10 percent threshold for parliamentary representation.
Final results are expected on Friday after a vote that went ahead peacefully and in line with the regulations, according to election observers from the regional bloc Economic Community of West African States or ECOWAS.
Voter turnout in the polls was a low 38.66 percent, the electoral commission said, despite analysts predicting it would be higher as more parties were involved.
Four years ago, opposition parties were effectively barred from participating in a legislative ballot due to a tightening of election rules, resulting in a parliament dominated by Talon supporters.
Most of Talon’s key opponents have also been jailed or forced into exile after the cotton magnate was elected in 2016 and later re-elected in 2021.
The 2019 legislative vote was marred by deadly clashes in an opposition stronghold, historic low turnout and an internet blackout.
On Sunday, seven parties – including three allied to the opposition – were allowed to participate.
Opposition leaders had hoped their parties would gain seats in preparation for the 2026 presidential election, when candidates will need the backing of lawmakers to be registered.
The mandate of the Constitutional Court also ends this year and, three years before the presidential ballot, the court’s composition is key as it oversees decisions on elections.
Four judges are appointed by lawmakers while three are chosen by the president.
Les Democrates, linked to Talon’s predecessor and rival Thomas Boni Yayi, also said it would seek to push an amnesty law in parliament to free jailed colleagues and allow the return of exiles.
In December 2021, Reckya Madougou was sentenced to 20 years in prison on a charge of “terrorism”, while Joel Aivo – another opposition leader and academic – was jailed for 10 years for alleged conspiracy against the authority of the state.
Both were tried by a special court dealing with “terrorism” and economic crimes, known as the CRIET. Critics say the court, opened by Talon’s government in 2016, has been used to crackdown on his opponents.
Sunday’s legislative vote took place as Benin and other Gulf of Guinea coastal countries, Ghana, Togo and Ivory Coast, face a growing threat from violence spilling over their northern borders with the Sahel.