Polling stations have closed in Benin as voters went to the polls for a parliamentary election seen as a test of democracy in the West African nation.
Opposition parties were back on the ballot for Sunday’s vote after boycotting or being excluded from the most recent presidential and legislative votes.
Benin’s image as a bastion of democracy and stability in the region has been dented under President Patrice Talon, who went back on a pledge not to run for another term and oversaw a crackdown on the opposition since coming to power in 2016.
About 6.6 million voters were eligible to take part in Sunday’s polls to elect 109 deputies, including at least 24 women – at least one per constituency – according to a new electoral code.
Seven parties took part in the vote, including the Les Democrates party linked to Talon’s predecessor and rival Thomas Boni Yayi.
Boni Yayi’s supporters led protests in 2019 after opposition parties were blocked from the legislative vote for failing to meet strict new eligibility criteria.
“It is the first time since 2019 that the opposition is back on the ballot, which is significant,” Al Jazeera’s Ahmed Idris reported from a polling station in the country’s largest city, Cotonou.
He said the opposition “need representation in parliament in order for their candidates to qualify for the presidential elections”, due in 2026.
“This election has witnessed a low turnout, lower than expectations of civil society,” Idris added.
Preliminary results, which are expected on January 11, may also be an indicator of the strength of the various political forces jostling to succeed President Talon.
The vote appeared to pass off without protests such as those in 2019 or those that broke out in 2021 against Talon’s decision to seek re-election, said political analyst Expedit Ologou, head of Beninois think-tank Civic Academy for Africa’s Future.
“The atmosphere seems calm, peaceful, friendly, fraternal in most areas of the country,” he told Reuters.