Updated July 2015
Beninese citizens were called to the polls to elect the country's Parliament on the 26th April 2015 following the adoption of Decision no 15-001 by the Constitutional Court on 9 January 2015. Conducted on the basis of a new electoral code passed in September 2013, these elections were a test of the capacity of the political class to build a consensus on the electoral process. Furthermore, the outcome of the National Assembly election would have major political and legal implications for the 2016 presidential election in view of the opposition's growing concerns over the President's alleged attempts to change the constitution to enable him to run for a third term.
The success of the 2015 electoral process was partly dependent on the ability of Beninese political leaders to build consensus particularly around the review of the permanent computerised voters' roll (LEPI). The review of the voters' roll was regarded by the opposition as a prerequisite for its participation in the 2015 legislative and municipal elections and the 2016 presidential election. The stalemate between the government and the Comité d'Orientation et de Supervision de la Liste Electorale Permanente Informatisée (COS/LEPI)1 over the disbursement of funds almost compromised the successful conduct of the election.
It is against this backdrop of political tensions that the Autonomous National Electoral Commission (CENA) organised an election which was deemed peaceful by observer groups. The CENA, as a new permanent election management body established after the new electoral code came into force, had limited experience conducting national elections. The adoption of special measures, including the extension of the deadline for the distribution of voters' cards until the eve of the polls and an increase in the human capacity of distribution centres needed to address the slow distribution of new voters' cards a few days before the elections, granted an opportunity to an increased number of Beninese citizens to exercise their right to vote.2 The Commission received the support of civil society actors who played a constructive mediation role defusing tensions over the late and slow distribution of voters' cards. Their role added value to the generally peaceful atmosphere. The CENA also adopted mechanisms to improve the transparency of its operations, such as the posting of election results at polling stations and the provision of results sheets to party agents present in the polling station, which contributed to the confidence accorded the Commission by the 20 competing parties and coalitions. The post-election unrest that broke out as a result of a friction between the Head of State and an elected Member of Parliament from Union fait la Nation (UN), impacted negatively on the atmosphere of peace and calm that prevailed before and during the polls.
The results announced by the Constitutional Court point to a relative decline in popularity of Forces Cauris pour un Bénin Emergent (FCBE)3, the ruling political coalition, which had hoped to secure an absolute parliamentary majority. The reconfiguration of the political landscape in the new House of Representatives could afford the opposition, which has been divided in the past, an opportunity to position itself as a driving force of change. The opposition's win of the majority of parliamentary seats as well as its holding of the chairmanship of the National Assembly, could contribute to consolidating the gains of the democratisation process ushered in by the historic sovereign national conference of February 1990.4
The stability of Benin in the short to mid-term is dependent on effective completion of the current electoral cycle of which the 2016 presidential election is a critical component. Compliance by all political actors with democratic principles enshrined in the Constitution, is key to maintaining political stability in Benin, and safeguarding the internationally revered Beninese democracy.
Senior Programme Officer, Elections & Political Process, EISA