Long-delayed local polls finally took place in Benin on Sunday, June 28th. Elections for municipal, communal and village level offices that should have taken place in 2013 were delayed by two years due to issues with the electronic voter registry. In the running for Sunday’s elections were candidates from 34 parties, competing for the 1,199 municipal and city councilor seats. The councilors will, in turn, elect 77 mayors, 176 deputy mayors and 546 district leaders. Election day was mostly calm, with low voter turn-out under heavy rains in the southern part of the country. Challenges in the distribution of voter cards and a lackluster campaign may also have contributed to lowering voter enthusiasm.
Given the timing of these elections – eight months ahead of the February 28, 2016 presidential poll – the outcome is closely watched as a bellwether of the support for different political party candidates in the next presidential contest. President Boni Yayi is coming to the end of his second term and cannot stand for reelection. Who the candidate of the ruling coalition, Forces cauris pour un Bénin émergent (FCBE), will be for his succession remains unclear. Boni Yayi himself has refrained thus far from anointing an heir apparent.
Legislative elections held on April 26, 2015 indicated a loss of support for the ruling coalition. The polls left the FCBE with a relative majority in the National Assembly with 33 out of 83 seats, but down from 41 seats in the last legislature. Even with the two seats of its ally, l’Union pour le Benin (UB), the ruling coalition does no longer control an absolute majority and the position of Speaker went to an opposition leader, Adrien Houngbédji, president of le Parti du renouveau démocratique (PRD). Houngbédji ran for president in 2011 and won 36 percent of the vote against Yayi who was reelected in the first round with 53 percent. The PRD is the third largest party in parliament, with 10 seats, the two other major opposition parties being the Union fait la Nation (UN) with 13 seats, and the RB-PB alliance with 7 seats. Six smaller parties share the remainder of the seats.
Final results from the local polls are yet to be declared by the Autonomous National Election Commission (CENA). Preliminary results from the major cities indicate that the PRD has won the majority of seats in Porto-Novo, the political capital, and is likely to keep its mayor there. In Cotonou, the economic capital, no clear winner is emerging, with the FCBE coming in fourth after the UN, the PRD and the RB.
The results of the local polls will give a strong indication of the relative strength of the various parties at the grass roots level. Should the negative trend from the legislative polls continue and the FCBE lose its current majority of mayor positions, the outcome of the local elections could influence political alliances at the national level in the lead-up to the presidential race. A loss of majority could lead to fractures within the FCBE as stalwarts within the party could chose to throw their lot with another alliance. It remains to be seen who the opposition front runner will be. Houngbédji of the PRD has reached the presidential candidate age limit of 70 years. With the political field wide open, the comings months will be of great interest to observers of the Beninese political scene.