By: Jeptum Tuitoek
The Republic of Benin held its parliamentary election on 8th January 2023. The polls were conducted peacefully, and opposition parties, previously excluded in the 2019 elections, participated freely. The ruling party, Union Progressiste le Renouveau, emerged as the winner, garnering 53% of the votes. The Bloc Republicain and Les Démocrates’ parties received 28% each. The low voter turnout, reportedly at 37%, surprised many. At the time of publication, the official female voter turnout was unavailable.
The main opposition party, Les Démocrates, rejected the official results and filed appeals with the Constitutional Court. citing irregularities due to the two pro-government parties' ballot box stuffing, rigging, and vote buying. Despite recognizing some anomalies at the polls, the Constitutional Court validated the results.
Benin has experienced a period of political turmoil and protests since President Talon reneged on a pledge not to run for a second term and reportedly used various tactics to target and stifle the opposition. The 2019 election was marked by irregularities, resulting in demonstrations, clashes, deaths, and an internet blackout. Opposition leaders were imprisoned or exiled following a violent response by President Talon's government. Before the events of 2019, Benin had been known for its stability and democracy in West Africa.
The country has a unicameral parliament, the National Assembly. The Assembly's 109 members serve for five years with a limit of three terms. The President is directly elected for up to two five-year terms and serves as Head of State and Government. A Prime Minister may assist the President; however, this position has been vacant since 2013.
Benin implemented a quota in 2019 when the country adopted the Electoral Code. Under Article144 of the Code, 24 seats are reserved for women in the National Assembly, one for each constituency across the country. The Code further stipulates that every political party must present a list of candidates in all electoral constituencies, which must include an equal number of candidates as there are seats to be filled, with one woman and her substitute included in each list, as prescribed by Article 145.
Women’s Political Participation
The 2023 elections saw 201 (26.34%) female candidates out of 763. It was a significant increase from the 2019 national assembly elections when 14 (8.43%) of 166 candidates were women. Following the 2023 election, 28 women were elected to the National Assembly, bringing female representation to 25.69%.It represents a significant increase in female members of parliament. In the 2019 election, only six women occupied the 109 seats, representing less than 10% of the National Assembly’s members.
To increase women’s political participation and representation, all political parties signed the Equality Charter on Politics. The Charter, adopted in 2018 by President Talon, mandates political parties to mobilize a minimum of 1,155 founding members at the national level, with 15 members required per commune. It is an increase from the previous requirement of 120 members, with 10 members required per department.
Beyond the political sphere, the Beninese Government has established a comprehensive legal, policy, and institutional framework to promote gender equality. In December 2021, a new law was passed to enhance protections against gender-based violence(GBV). It expands the scope of GBV and increases stiffer penalties for sexual harassment, rape, forced marriage, child marriage, and female genital mutilation.
Female political leaders in Benin have made significant progress in ensuring the protection and advancement of women's rights and gender equality in the country, especially regarding reproductive rights. Benin has one of Africa's most liberal abortion laws, permitting abortions where the pregnancy is likely to worsen or create a situation of material, educational, professional, or moral distress incompatible with the best interests of the woman and/or the unborn child. Abortion was legalized in Benin in October 2021 after advocacy from Dr. Véronique Tognifode, the minister for social affairs, professional bodies, and civil society organizations, and support from President Talon.
Benin’s parliamentary elections on January 8, 2023, had a few cases of polling irregularities, the election was conducted peacefully, and all the political parties participated in a free and democratic process. However, the overall voter turnout was low, indicating a lack of enthusiasm and engagement among the electorate. The 2019 elections saw a rise in female legislators in the National Assembly. Women now represent 26.34% of the Assembly’s members.
Benin made strides in achieving political representation for women, notably through Article 144 of the 2019 Electoral Code. The Article ensures that 24 of the 109 seats in the National Assembly are reserved for women, thus bolstering women's political representation and offering renewed prospects for female participation and decision-making. The Electoral Code appears to have positively affected women's political representation, as 28 women were elected in the 2023 polls. The rise in women legislators is likely to foster the creation of more laws and policies to promote women's rights, ultimately leading to a more inclusive political landscape that enables the effective participation of all individuals in political processes and a fairer and more equitable society.
Source: Inter-Parliamentary Union