By Temitope Owotoki
A group of 50 African and American scholars, including Nobel Laurate, Professor Wole Soyinka, has written to President Patrice Talon of Benin Republic, demanding a rerun of the country’s controversial parliamentary elections.
The group accused Talon of suppressing opposition’s participation in the election by colluding with the electoral commission to disqualify popular opposition candidates, leaving only candidates of two political parties that support his ambition.
Apart from Soyinka, other signatories to the strongly-worded letter include Henry Gates Jr., Jacob Olupona, Ropo Sekoni, Catherine Coquery and Francis Affergan.
They praised Benin as a country of rich African culture and civilisation that has allowed opposition to flourish over the past 30 years of uninterrupted constitutional democracy.
“Today, however, this democratic model is in great danger,” the academics said against the backdrop of April 28 parliamentary poll. They described the election as “particularly turbulent and marked, in some places, by deadly violence.”
The election was widely boycotted by voters because Talon’s control of the two parties on the ballot effectively meant they had no opposition figures to elect.
About 27 per cent of the five million registered voters took part in the parliamentary poll to fill 83 seats, according to official data.
Some independent estimates put the turnout at barely 10 per cent. Even supporters of the president also reportedly boycotted the exercise.
An amendment to the electoral code in September 2018 required a political party to deposit about $424,000 to express interest in taking part in parliamentary elections.
The Constitutional Court also belatedly imposed a letter of conformity from political parties, which further complicated chances of the opposition.
Talon was elected in 2016, even though his predecessor, Boni Yayi, supported a different candidate. He touted himself as a friend of farmers and promised a stronger economy and democracy.
Barely three years into his reign, however, complaints are mounting that Talon, 61, was cracking down on copposition in a country once seen as a model for democracy on the continent.
While the international community weighed how to respond to the looming political crisis in Benin, African academics said they can not remain helpless in the face of the deterioration.
They urged Talon to reverse the draconian constitutional amendment that rendered opposition participation in elections more stringent — and to desist from further acts that could erode the country’s democratic gains.
“We respectfully appeal to the democratically elected President, Patrice Talon, to courageously invalidate the results of these highly contested elections,” the group said.
“We ask President Talon to call new elections on a new basis that guarantees, instead of excluding it before hand, the effective participation of the opposition in an open and transparent national competition.”