Authorities have confirmed that communal and municipal elections will be held across Benin on Sunday, May 17, despite concerns over the ongoing coronavirus disease (COVID-19) epidemic and claims that major opposition parties have been excluded from the vote. The election campaign has been held under strict social distancing measures since May 1, with a moratorium on canvassing and political rallies resulting in politicians turning to extensive media campaigns. However, polling stations are expected to open across the country on Sunday, with critics of President Patrice Talon expressing concerns that disease mitigation measures have been abandoned in favor of political expediency. Nevertheless, officials have insisted that social distancing and the wearing of face masks will be enforced at polling stations.
A heightened security presence is to be expected in the lead up to and during the elections.
Sunday's vote is being held despite an African Court of Human and Peoples' Rights ruling which found that, as in the controversial 2019 general election, most major opposition parties had been prevented from standing due to repressive bureaucratic registration requirements under new electoral laws. Although participation is higher than during last year's polls, most serious candidates remain allied to Talon's bloc. However, the ban on social and political gatherings, as well as the lower significance of the municipal vote, has meant that there have so far been few opposition demonstrations and the risk of unrest remains lower than in the aftermath of the 2019 polls.
Individuals in Benin are advised to closely monitor the political situation in the country and avoid public political gatherings and demonstrations due to the risk of exposure to potential crowd disturbances and incidental violence, as well as aggressive dispersal operations by security forces. Localized disruption should be anticipated on May 17, and travelers should adhere to all directives issued by local authorities and their home governments. As a precaution, individuals in Benin are strongly advised to maintain a low profile, avoid discussing politically sensitive topics in public and be discreet regarding personal details, particularly information concerning nationality, employment, family, etc.
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