Benin voters boycott parliamentary polls as no opposition runs

Opposition protesters in Benin's biggest city Cotonou, where they chanted slogans denouncing President Patrice Talon. AFP/Yanick Folly

Amnesty International called the internet shutdown a ‘blunt violation of the right to freedom of expression’.

Benin’s parliamentary polls have turned out to be much of a non-event as large numbers of voters boycotted the election which offered no opposition candidate to choose from.

Two parties both aligned with President Patrice Talon offered 83 new candidates to be elected to parliament.

Sunday’s dismal turnout, despite appeals from national radio stations for citizens to fulfil their patriotic duty, was accompanied by warnings from rights groups that basic freedoms in the country were being eroded as the internet was cut, France24 reported on Monday.

The eligibility rules were narrowed thereby successfully barring opposition parties from fielding a number of candidates.

The opposition then turned to their supporters and asked them to vote with their feet – by not turning up at polling stations and voting at all – a disturbing sign in a country once touted as a model democracy.

In 1991 authoritarian rule ended in the West African country and voters could choose from 20 parties for the 83 seats in parliament. However this year, the ruling party pushed through a new restrictive electoral code.

Many of the five million registered voters appeared absent, with voting booths in the economic capital Cotonou quiet, streets empty, and shops closed the entire day.

In the run-up to the elections, opposition protests were brutally quashed while internet access was restricted and social media and messaging apps blocked.

Amnesty International called the internet shutdown a “blunt violation of the right to freedom of expression”.

“It is effectively silencing human rights defenders, journalists, and bloggers who are monitoring contested parliamentary elections without opposition candidates,” Amnesty said in a statement.

But it wasn’t only opposition supporters who failed to vote but also some supporters of the president shocked at the deteriorating situation which has included the arbitrary arrest of political activists and journalists.

– African News Agency

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