Benin’s parliament on Tuesday narrowly rejected a proposal from President Patrice Talon to amend the constitution, including introducing a single presidential term, down from the currently permitted two.
After a day of heated debate, 60 deputies voted in favour of the bill, with 22 against and one abstention. Any change in the constitution needs the approval of four-fifths of the national assembly, and the measure fell short of the required majority.
“It’s a failure, a slap in the face for the government,” one deputy told AFP, speaking on condition of anonymity.
Businessman Talon, who was elected last year, had proposed amending the constitution to limit presidents to a single term of office in the tiny West African nation, which is dwarfed by its giant neighbour Nigeria to the east. They can currently serve a maximum of two.
Such a measure, if passed, would be in direct contrast to a number of other African countries where leaders have sought to remain in power at all costs.
But Talon’s critics, some of whom have taken to the streets to protest, point out that single-term presidencies were open to abuse, as the president would not have to court the favour of voters at the end of his term.
The details of Talon’s proposed 43 changes to the 160-article constitution have not been released in full, but also include setting a cap on political party funding and promoting positive discrimination for women in politics.
Talon sought to pass the bill through parliament, where he enjoys strong support, rather than organise a referendum, as he had promised before he came to power.
“It’s a victory for the people of Benin,” said Leonce Houngbadji, president of the opposition Party for the Liberation of the People (PLP), which ran a campaign against the proposal.
Last week, the defence minister announced his resignation to protest against Talon’s plans to overhaul the constitution.
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