Benin claimed its full independence from France in 1960 as The Republic of Dahomey under President Hubert Maga. However, the next decade was a turbulent one for this small West African country with coups and regime changes in 1963, 1965 (twice), 1967, 1969, and 1972. In 1970 the three most powerful political figures – Maga, Sourou Apithy and Justin Ahomadegbé – formed a bewildering Presidential Council with a rotating Chairman. This however soon fell apart due to regionalism (primarily the country’s north-south dynamic) and poor economic performance.
In 1972 Mathieu Kérékou overthrew the ruling triumvirate signalling a clear break with the previous ruling class and in 1974 announcing that the country’s ‘national revolution’ would follow a Marxist-Leninist course. In 1975 the country’s name was changed to the People’s Republic of Benin. Nearly all of Benin’s economy was put under state control, and foreign investment accordingly dried up. The regime developed a reputation for the incarceration of opponents particularly after a seemingly stage managed coup attempt in 1977.
From 1979 the country was governed by a National Revolutionary Assembly elected from a single list of candidates offered by the ruling party. By 1990 opposition had grown against Kérékou’s regime. After a National Conference of Active Forces of the Nation was convened to discuss Benin’s future, a new constitution was adopted by popular referendum. The Conference forced Kérékou to turn over power to a transitional government, to hold elections in 1991, and also changed the country’s name to The Republic of Benin.
Prime Minister Nicephore Soglo stood against Kérékou and was elected with 68 percent of the vote. No one party dominated Benin’s parliament, and politics operated under a ‘Presidential coalition.’ In the 1996 Presidential election, Soglo’s former opponent Kérékou ran again and seemingly as a result of the former’s economic mismanagement was elected. Soglo ran again against Kérékou in the 2001 election but was defeated and then withdrew citing electoral fraud as the reason for his opponent’s victory. Kérékou and former president Soglo did not run in the 2006 elections, as both were barred by the constitution's restrictions on age and total terms of candidates. Kérékou was widely praised for making no effort to change the constitution so that he could remain in office or run again. Yayi Boni was elected President in 2006 in a contest that was generally considered to be free and fair. Benin has be seen to have made significant political progress since the early 1990s having three times transferred presidential and legislative power freely and fairly at the ballot box. It has also established an independent electoral commission, introduced the single ballot for legislative elections, enjoys a lively independent press, has a Constitutional Court and a High Court of Justice (to hear cases against the president and senior-level officials), and has kept the armed forces under control.
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