Accessibility links

Breaking News

Benin Court Rejects Longer Terms for Lawmakers

Benin lawmakers have been denied their bid to lengthen their terms. The constitutional court overturned their amendment to the constitution.

Benin's lawmakers got the required 80-percent majority to amend the constitution, extending their parliamentary terms from four to five years. Only eight of the 84 parliamentarians voted against the change on June 23.

But late on Saturday, the constitutional court said such a change would be a breach of the 1990 multi-party democracy consensus. The court rejected the amendment.

The Benin legislators' activities had sparked an open debate between parliament and many civil society activists, who were against the extension.

One civil society leader, campaigning against corruption, Martin Assogba, was shocked by the lawmakers attempt to extend their term.

He says, the lawmakers are meant to make laws," but he says, they are spending their time changing the law in their favor only. He says, it is not in favor of the population as a whole.

Assogba was confident that the courts would not let them have their way, and says the court decision is important for democracy in Benin.

He says, he knew that he could just stay calm, as, he says, the head of state, who needs to sign constitutional amendments before they take effect, had not given his approval yet. He says, the courts had not spoken yet, so, he says, "we just let them do their work."

Such opposition against parliamentarians is widespread in Benin. Author George Bada is relieved by the decision.

He says, he thinks it is a good decision, because it will keep the lawmakers accountable. He says, "even when you have the right to do something, you should always honor the people."

Last year, supporters of then-President Mathieu Kerekou started lobbying to allow Mr. Kerekou to run for a third term.

The same lawmakers who sought to extend their own mandates, opposed the constitutional change regarding presidential terms.

In proposing to extend their own terms, the parliamentarians argued such a change would synchronize their terms with those of regional deputies, and save money, because there would be fewer elections.

Benin businessman Valerie Sossu supported their arguments.

"I think it is a good revision to the constitution. We all know that many rules in the constitution need to be revised," Sossu says.

President Yayi Boni will finish his first 100 days in office next Monday. Mr. Boni's supporters are hoping the political newcomer will rout political corruption, which they say was commonplace under former President Kerekou.

Mr. Kerekou had come to power in a 1972 coup, but opened the country to multi-party democracy in 1990. He lost elections the next year, but was elected Benin's president again in 1996.