PORTO NOVO, 11 April 2021 – Observers say voter turnout was low in Benin’s presidential election Sunday, held amidst calls by the opposition for a boycott.
Two people were killed and six others suffered gunshot wounds during protests staged in the run-up to Sunday’s ballot to decry President Patrice Tallon for breaking his pledge to serve only for one term.
Streets were quiet and “ghosted” in most opposition strongholds across the country, according to news reports.
Roads were blocked in certain parts of the country, with angry opposition supporters seeking to disrupt the ballot.
The opposition’s Alassane Soumanou, a former minister and leader of the FCBE party along with Corentin Kohoue are the only other candidates running against President Tallon.
Several individuals who initially planned to run abandoned the race, alleging that the ballot was not going to be free, fair, or transparent.
Former mayor of the country’s economic capital, Cotonou, and the son of a former president, Lehady Soglo, and a former prime minister, Lionel Zinsou, are among those who abandoned the race.
Soglo now lives in exile after being sentenced in absentia to ten years in prison for “abuse of office”.
Zinsou was accused of overspending campaign funds and barred from running for office for four years.
Sebastien Ajavon who placed third in the presidential election in 2016 has now fled into exile, citing threats on his life.
Other opposition figures have been arrested and are facing trumped-up charges, including accusations of terrorism.
Tallon’s government has rejected claims by the opposition that he has packed the deck for an election that is, according to them, anything but democratic.
On Sunday, Benin’s communication minister Alain Arounla stressed that point again in remarks to journalists.
“We do not need every person in Benin to run as candidates in an election for it to be representative. Once you have the ruling party and the opposition represented, an election is complete – and the democratic system is operational,” Arounla said.
There are fears that the protests will continue and could degenerate into more violence after Sunday’s election which rights groups have described as representing a backsliding on Benin’s otherwise impressive walk towards democracy.
All opposition political parties were excluded from Benin’s parliamentary elections in 2019, leading to protests in which security forces shot dead seven people.
Most political parties could not field a candidate in the parliamentary election because they could not afford the sum of $424,000 which they had to pay in order to run.
The country’s current parliament is entirely controlled by the ruling party of Tallon.