State and politics
Benin was a military-controlled and Marxist one-party
state from the 1970s, but in a 1990 referendum adopted a new
democratic constitution. The country has since developed
into a relatively well-functioning democracy. Also see AbbreviationFinder for abbreviation of BN and its meanings of Benin.
According to the constitution, the executive power comes
with a people-elected president, who is elected for a term
of five years and can be re-elected once. The President
appoints the government and directs its work. The
legislative power comes to Parliament with 83 members, who
are elected for four years in proportionate elections.
The transition to democracy in Benin has been peaceful.
As the first country in Africa, Benin organized a national
conference in 1990, attended by delegates from some fifty
organizations. In the first free presidential election in
1991, Nicéphore Soglo (born 1934) was elected president. He
embarked on economic liberalization and austerity policies
to address the huge budget deficit. The measures led to
dissatisfaction, and he was accused of a lack of interest in
social issues, in authoritarian rule and in nepotism. After
the 1995 parliamentary elections, Soglo received the
National Assembly, and in the 1996 presidential elections,
former dictator Mathieu Kérékou regained power with the
support of 52 percent of voters.
Kérékou was re-elected in 2001, but the main contenders,
including Soglo, boycotted the second round of elections in
protest of alleged irregularities in the first round. In
April 2006, Kérékou was succeeded as president by partisan
economist Boni Yayi, who previously was head of the West
African Development Bank, among others. He formed a
government mainly consisting of expert experts. In 2011,
Yayi was re-elected with 53 percent of the vote in the first
Up until the 2003 parliamentary elections, the National
Assembly was dominated by the Parti de la Renaissance du
Bénin (PRB), founded by Soglo. The position as
Parliament's largest party was then taken over by Union
pour le Bénin du futur (UBF), which was close to
Kérékou. Ahead of the 2007 elections, the Alliance
Cauris pour un Bénin émergent (FCBE) formed the
alliance, which supported President Yayi and became the
largest party with 35 out of 83 seats. FCBE backed two terms
in the 2015 parliamentary elections but retained its
position as the largest party.
During his second term in office, President Yayi worked
in vain to bring about changes to the constitution, which
the opposition feared would also mean an attempt to
introduce a third term for the president. Ahead of the 2016
election, FCBE launched the Prime Minister since June 2015,
Lionel Zinsou (born 1954), as his candidate. He got the most
votes in the first round, but in the second round he was
clearly defeated by Patrice Talon, who was running as an
independent candidate and was elected president with 65
percent of the vote. Talon previously supported Boni Yayi
but was accused in 2012 of participating in a conspiracy
against the president; he was pardoned in 2014.
New tough demands placed on political parties under the
electoral law introduced in 2018 resulted in only two
parties being allowed to stand in the 2019 parliamentary
elections. Both parties - Union progressiste (UP)
and Bloc republican (BR) - are loyal to President
The substantive right is based on the country's French
legal heritage in combination with local customary law. The
judicial organization consists of local courts in each
district as well as the Supreme Court in Cotonou. Benin
abolished the death penalty for all crimes in 2016.
Women are subjected to discrimination, even though
Benin's constitution provides for gender equality. Few women
hold political office. Marital abuse is punishable but is
rarely investigated as these crimes are considered family
affairs. About one in five women in the country are sexually
stunted, although mutilation is prohibited.
Marriage to children under the age of 14 is prohibited
but occurs mainly in rural areas. Forced marriage also
occurs. Benin is a country of origin, transit and
destination for human trafficking, primarily women and
children, which is expressed in forced labor and sexually
exploited by children.
Conditions in the country's prisons are difficult and in
some respects life-threatening. Insufficient food,
overcrowding, poor sanitary conditions and lack of health
care have led to death. Benin's penal code includes the
death penalty. However, executions have not taken place
since the 1980s. Arbitrary police arrests occur, but police
officers who commit abuse through the use of force are
rarely punished. Benin has a number of violent citizenship.
Access to free information in the country is limited.
Restrictions on freedom of expression and press as well as
freedom of assembly are common. Offending the president is a
serious violation of law. Several journalists have been
charged with slander and media workers are practicing
self-censorship to a great extent.
Heads of State
Presidents since 1972