Benin pro-govt parties win parliament majority

Benin's pro-government parties won a majority of seats in parliament, the country's constitutional court said Thursday, in a vote marking the return of the opposition after four years of absence.

Sunday's vote, which went ahead peacefully, was a test for the West African state where President Patrice Talon has promoted 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.

Parties supporting Talon, the Republican Bloc and the Progressive Union for Renewal parties together won 81 out of 109 seats in parliament, said Razaki Amouda Issifou, president of the constitutional court.

The opposition Democrats party gained 28 seats, he 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, Democrats party 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 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 for a period of 10 days following the official proclamation of results.

- Jailed opponents -

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 2026 presidential elections 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 and four new judges will be appointed by lawmakers while three are chosen by the president.

The Democrats party 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 a charge of terrorism.

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 a special court dealing with terrorism and economic crimes, known as the CRIET.

Critics say the court, opened by Talon's government in 2016, has been used to crack down on his opponents.

Sunday's legislative vote took place as Benin and other coastal countries in the Gulf of Guinea, Ghana, Togo and Ivory Coast, face a growing threat from jihadist violence spilling over their northern borders with the Sahel.

str-lhd/mca