Benin Republic, West Africa’s oldest multi-party democracy may be less than 90 days away from political chaos as the political opposition, with the support of the overwhelming majority of the populace, is taking its opposition to incumbent President Patrice Talon’s gambit to establish autocratic rule to the brink.
The latest – and most dramatic – development is a 90 day ultimatum for the President to resign, issued earlier this week by Dr Prosper, Ladislas Agbesi, a candidate in the 2016 presidential elections that brought Talon to power, and who is now Chairman of the Alliance for Sustainable Democracy in Africa, the formal grouping that is seeking to short-circuit Talon’s bid to replace Benin’s multi-party democracy with autocratic rule.
Importantly, Dr Agbesi’s ultimatum has been accompanied by an appeal for intervention by the international community in the form of ECOWAS, the African Union, the European Union and the United Nations itself. At the weekend Dr Agbesi was in Accra canvassing for international support – although domiciled in South Africa in recent years, he is half Ghanaian and indeed began his now very successful career as a businessman and entrepreneur from Ghana.
The international community will be sorely tempted to back up its clearly stated opposition to President Talon’s political antics, with the sanctions that Agbesi is calling for. If that happens, Talons exit from office would simply a matter of time because of Benin’s heavy reliance on foreign assistance, especially from France, makes its economy dependent on foreign support.
Agbesi is calling for a government of national unity to replace Talon at least until credible elections can be organized to super cede the obvious electoral farce at the legislative level which set off the crisis in the first place.
The immediate spark that ignited the ongoing political crisis was Talon’s gambit to disqualify all the opposition parties from contesting the legislative elections, held in May, to determine the composition of Benin’s 83 seat National Assembly. A month prior to the elections, his government announced the introduction of an array of administrative requirements to be met by all parties desiring to contest for legislative seats, topped by a filing fee equivalent to some US$424,000. These were contained in two new laws – a new electoral code and a new charter for political parties – which effectively prevented almost all the opposition political parties in Benin from contesting the elections, the only exceptions being the Republic Bloc and the Progressive Union, both of them openly loyal to the President..
Talon’s script for autocracy was so clearly written that the disgusted electorate kept away from polling booths on election day; voter turnout as 27% was the lowest in Benin’s history. Inevitably Talon’s political allies won all 83 parliamentary seats.
The international community, in consonance with the sentiments of Benin’s populace immediately dismissed the elections as not credible.
Unsurprisingly, the elections have been followed by civil protests and demonstrations which have been met with a crackdown on outspoken critics of the government including the media.
Actually, the farcical legislative elections were simply the climax of a Presidential script that has been played out since Talon was elected in 2016, when he replaced outgoing President Thomas Boni Yayi, whose two five year terms had come to an end. Since then civil liberties and democratic ideals have been gradually eroded.