As Benin awaits results from Sunday’s election, many hoped the small, West African country would continue its tradition as a beacon of democracy in the region. But analysts worry Benin is following the path of neighbors like Chad, which held elections the same day and is expected to extend President Idriss Deby's 30-year rule.
Benin made history in 1991 when it became the first mainland sub-Saharan African country to peacefully vote out an incumbent leader. But critics and political analysts say Benin’s reputation as a stable democracy has begun to erode under President Patrice Talon.
Though he’s been praised for growing Benin’s economy and infrastructure, Talon has been widely panned for quashing critics.
After winning a five-year term in 2016, he broke a promise not to run again and pushed through election laws that sidelined opponents or forced them into exile.
As a result, of the 19 candidates who planned to run against Talon on Sunday, just two largely unknown figures were deemed eligible.
Gilles Yabi is a Beninese political analyst based in Senegal and the founder of West Africa Citizen Think Tank.
“It’s possible to have a democratic regression and of course we cannot exclude that in a few years, if we continue in this trajectory of exclusion of political actors, of using the justice system to exclude political opposition, and to reduce the liberties, of course we can have Benin becoming a country like other countries in West Africa, or like others in Central Africa, where the realities are no longer a democratic system,” he said.
Talon’s government used troops to violently crack down on election protesters last week, leaving two people dead.
Political analysts are worried the democratic decline in Benin is part of a larger trend.
Over the last year, leaders of other West African nations such as Senegal, Guinea and Ivory Coast have also been accused of sidelining political opponents.
Chad’s President Idriss Deby has clung to power for the last three decades and is expected to win a sixth term after also holding polls Sunday.
Jeannine Ella Abatan, a senior researcher with the Institute for Security Studies in Dakar, says though Chad and Benin have very different political histories, she sees some worrisome similarities.
“You have this blurring of lines between the executive and legislative and the judiciary in that all institutions that are supposed to provide checks and balances have either been weakened or are controlled by the president,” she said.
Abatan says both Chad and Benin have restricted media and used security forces to attack protesters.