Freedom in the World
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Benin remains among the most stable democracies in sub-Saharan Africa, having witnessed multiple free and fair elections and peaceful transfers of power since its transition to democracy in 1991. Freedom of expression and association are generally respected, but corruption remains a challenge, particularly within the courts.
- Businessman Patrice Talon was elected president in March, and took office in April. Talon, an independent candidate, has pledged not to seek a second term.
- A 35-member commission appointed by President Talon to propose political and institutional reforms issued recommendations in June, which were primarily aimed at reducing presidential influence in the judiciary and the media.
- Upon taking office, Talon took steps to reduce bonus payments for top officials and remove allegedly corrupt mayors, though there are questions over whether the mayors’ removals were politically motivated.
Benin is among the most stable democracies in sub-Saharan Africa, and in 2016 saw a peaceful transfer of power after Talon was elected, and President Thomas Boni Yayi stepped down upon completing his second term, as mandated by the constitution.
In the first round of the presidential election, 33 candidates competed, and no candidate won a majority of votes. A second round was subsequently held between the top two candidates: Prime Minister Lionel Zinsou, of Yayi’s party, the Cowry Forces for an Emerging Benin (FCBE); and Talon, a businessman and independent candidate. Talon, endorsed by 24 of the presidential candidates from the first round, won the second round and the presidency with 65 percent of the vote. Apart from minor delays, there were few problems with the election process. Several presidential candidates who supported Talon in the second round were rewarded with cabinet positions when the new government was formed.
President Talon has pledged to serve a single term, and followed through on a campaign promise to appoint a commission to recommend political and institutional reforms. In June, the commission recommended that the president should no longer appoint the country’s chief justice or head of the national audio-visual authority; an increase in the number of justices on the constitutional court; and an extension of their mandate from five to nine years. However, Talon’s lack of a majority in the legislature may pose a challenge to the recommendations’ implementation; Yayi’s FCBE holds the most seats.
The commission considered but did not make a recommendation on a proposal to replace the two five-year term limit for the president with a single seven-year term. Talon has announced a plan to hold a national referendum on the issue—though the constitutional court in 2011 ruled that the constitutional article regarding presidential term limits could not be changed in a referendum.
Once in office, Talon repealed some 20 decrees adopted under Yayi, including those on bonus payments to high-level public officials. Steps were also taken to remove a number of mayors from office based on accusations of mismanagement, although because of the mayors’ support for Yayi, there are questions of political motivation.
This country report has been abridged for Freedom in the World 2017. For background information on political rights and civil liberties in Benin, see Freedom in the World 2016.