Benin’s pro-government parties have won a majority of seats in parliament, the country’s Constitutional Court said, in a vote marking the return of the opposition after four years of absence.
Parties supporting President Patrice Talon, the Republican Bloc and the Progressive Union for Renewal, together won 81 out of 109 seats in parliament, said Razaki Amouda Issifou, president of the Constitutional Court, on Thursday.
Sunday’s vote, which went ahead peacefully, was a test for the West African state where Talon has focused on development but critics say democracy has steadily eroded under his watch.
It was the first time the opposition was participating in elections since cotton magnate Talon came to power in 2016.
The opposition Les Democrates, party of former President Thomas Boni Yayi, gained 28 seats, Issifou said, adding that voter turnout was 37.79 percent.
Seven political parties – including three allied to the opposition – were allowed to participate in the election.
Only parties that win more than 10 percent of the vote are eligible to get parliamentary seats, according to a proportional system.
Earlier on Thursday, Les Democrates leader Eric Houndete had denounced “flagrant” ballot box stuffing, rigging and vote buying by the two pro-government parties, without providing immediate evidence.
“The Democrats [Les Democrates] party rejects this result, which does not reflect the will of the people to make our party the first political force in our country,” Houndete said.
Results can be contested within 10 days from the official proclamation of results.
In 2019, opposition parties were effectively barred from participating in a legislative ballot due to stricter election rules, resulting in a parliament dominated by government supporters. That vote was marred by deadly clashes in an opposition stronghold, historic low turnout and an internet blackout, rare events in Benin.
Since Talon first came to office and after getting re-elected in 2021, most of his opponents have been jailed or have gone into exile.
This year’s legislative elections were key for the opposition in preparation for the 2026 presidential election when candidates will need lawmaker support to be registered.
Parliament also plays a role in the composition of the Constitutional Court, which oversees rulings on election disputes. Its mandate ends this year. Four new judges will be appointed by lawmakers while three will be chosen by the president.
Les Democrates 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, opposition leader Reckya Madougou was sentenced to 20 years in prison on “terrorism” charges. 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 the Economic Crimes and Terrorism Repression Court (CRIET). Critics say the court, opened by Talon’s government in 2016, has been used to crack down on his opponents.