AD321: Is Benin’s democracy living up to its reputation?

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Christina Scheller and Mircea Lazar

Benin has long been seen as a stable democracy, consistently rated as free by Freedom House and achieving several peaceful electoral transfers of power since democratization in the 1990s (Paduano, 2019). However, Benin’s recent legislative elections have called this image into question. New eligibility requirements left only two political parties on the ballot, both allied with President Patrice Talon. The government violently suppressed large protests and restricted Internet access, and widespread boycotts led to the lowest voter turnout on record (Paduano, 2019; BBC News, 2019).

Is Benin’s democracy as strong as its reputation would suggest?

Results from Afrobarometer 2017 survey in Benin suggest some reservations even before the troubling 2019 elections, While citizens overwhelmingly supported democracy, wanted multiparty competition, and desired a government that is accountable, only half were satisfied with the way the country’s democracy was working, and many said they have to be cautious in talking about politics, joining political organizations, and voting. On indicators of the opposition’s freedom to function, citizens’ marks were only about average compared to other African countries.