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Benin Oppo to Appear on January Ballots

FILE: Incumbent Benin President Patrice Talon casts his ballot at the Zongo Ehuzu polling station to vote during the Benin Presidential election in Cotonou on April 11, 2021. The January 2023 elections are for parliament members.

Benin's opposition, weakened by arrests and the exile of its leaders, has been allowed to participate in January's legislative elections, four years after they were excluded from taking part in the last vote.

Electoral authorities have authorized seven political parties, including three claiming to be opposition, to take part in the January 8 ballot for lawmakers.

The opposition parties given the green light include the Democrats, who managed to win a last-minute constitutional court ruling on Saturday, allowing its candidates to run.

"The Constitutional Court wanted to spare Benin a new tragedy by accepting that our party finally can go to the elections," said Gandonou Eudes, an activist for the Democrats.

Legislative elections in 2019 ended in clashes that left several people dead, after the opposition was banned and security forces violently repressed its supporters who took to the streets in the center of the country.

Only the two political parties supporting Talon were allowed to take part.

In 2021, the main opposition leaders also failed to participate in the presidential ballot that re-elected Talon, prompting more protests in opposition strongholds.

Two of the president's main opponents are still in prison, sentenced to heavy sentences.

"We tried to get on the ballot in 2019, 2020, 2021 -- impossible," said Democrats party chief Eric Houndete, during a meeting this week in the capital Porto-Novo.

Now "our time has come," he said.

"You have the opportunity to choose, to avoid having a one-colour parliament."

The Cauris Forces for an Emerging Benin or FCBE party and the Popular Liberation Movement or MPL party are the two other opposition movements that will take part.

All three will look to win as many seats as possible in the 109-member parliament, which is currently controlled by pro-Talon parties.

"If the legislative elections are transparent, the parties in power will not have an easy task," said Beninese political scientist Expedit Ologou.

For Marie Yaya, a young Democrats activist and former student of opposition leader Joel Aivo, the election should not make us "forget the fate of those who are still languishing in prison".