Benin opposition unites behind single presidential candidate

Opposition stalwarts in the West African state of Benin on Wednesday formed a grand coalition that will back a single candidate, Joel Aivo, to challenge incumbent Patrice Talon in April’s presidential election.

Many leading opposition figures of the poor former French colony, long held up as a model of democracy but now seen as veering towards authoritarianism, are either in exile or have been barred from running.

The new coalition, calling itself the Front for the Restoration of Democracy, is rallying behind Aivo, an academic who only entered politics in recent months. 

“Men and women have chosen not to bend the knee, not to abandon the country but to go to its rescue to champion democracy and competition,” Aivo told a news conference.

The opposition and civil society have charged that the April 11 election is already sewn up for Talon because of a new electoral law that requires candidates to be endorsed by 16 mayors or lawmakers.

Opposition parties were unable to participate in parliamentary elections in 2019 because of restrictions, and many boycotted local elections held in April last year.

“Since President Patrice Talon acceded to power, Benin’s democracy has been brought to an end,” said Valentin Houde, a former minister and member of the new coalition.

The new grouping also includes Eric Houndete, a former deputy speaker of parliament and the leader of a former opposition coalition.

Talon has not yet announced a widely expected bid for re-election in the country of 11 million people, but few doubt his intentions. 

When he was first elected in 2016 on a modernising platform and a vow to stamp out corruption and mismanagement, the cotton baron said he intended to serve only one term.