Tension in the West African state of Benin over the upcoming presidential elections due to be held on March 6.
Tension between the parliamentarians of opposition and the ones of the ruling coalition rose Thursday 16, when the session convened to appoint at local level the members of the Electoral Commission due to organize the poll was about to start.
One opposition MP claimed the Speaker was in breach of the internal procedure rule by deciding to begin working without the presence of two Parliamentary Secretaries. He threatened to prevent the Speaker from opening the debate if he carried on despite the absence the two secretaries. He then walked towards the Speaker who ordered his guards to prevent him and even beat him, according to reports from local news papers.
The parliamentarian was joined by his colleagues of the opposition to vehemently criticize the Speaker’s attempt to resume work without the Parliamentary Secretaries while the ruling parties’ MPs reacted angrily. It then followed exchanges of insults and verbal confrontations. However, the Parliament could not resume work since the opposition MPs continued with their protest by making loud noise preventing the Speaker from carrying on. Outside the Parliament compound were stationed armed soldiers that prevented the public from entering.
The main reason behind this tension is the upcoming presidential elections scheduled to take place on March 6. The opposition accuses the government of preparing the conditions for vote rigging and fraud. The deadline provided by electoral law for the voter registry to be ready expired while the enrollment is far from being completed. There are reports confirmed by the CPS-LEPI, the body entrusted to register the voters that more than 1.3 million citizens empowered by the Constitution to vote were not included in the process. Other registered voters find their names on the registry but far from their location, even in a different city or region from where they are supposed to take part in the poll.
Initially, the poll was to due to take place on February 27 but was postponed because these different problems related to the voter registry were not solved. However, the opposition points out that according to the electoral law the voter registry should have been available, if the poll had had to be held on March 6. Once available the voter registry must be certified by independent experts to make sure it does not allow frauds. Meanwhile 11 candidates among the 13 that stand for president in the elections call for further postponement of the poll to allow the voter registry to be fully completed.
So far the government does not seem willing to back down from its line which is that the elections must take place on March 6 even if right now the voter registry is not available. The opposition has therefore adopted a strategy consisting of blocking the electoral process by preventing Parliament from appointing the members of the Electoral Commission at the local level.
As the tension between both camps, the opposition and the ruling coalition, has been rising high, many have called for dialogue but it is unlikely the government may compromise. Benin, known to be a stable and peaceful democracy since 1990, seems increasingly to be on the verge chaos. For the time being the so-called International Community cares little and things are going on as if there is no cause for concern but very soon it could be late.