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Benin's President Opens Door to Third Term

[All links forward to French-language web pages.]

Much ink continues to be spilt over the question of revisions to the West African country of Benin's constitution.

The country's President Yayi Boni has proposed an amendment to the constitution that would twist the law which puts a ban on presidential third terms to allow him to run one more time in the next presidential elections. Boni already has won two presidential elections in 2006 and 2011. In the past, the president of the republic has made his views on the subject very clear on several occasions, stating that he will not be standing for election in 2016.

Boni submitted a draft proposal of the decree to the National Assembly on June 6, 2013 and wanted a vote on it four days later, leaving only four days for members of the parliament to review the proposal.

A number of political players and public opinion accuse Boni of hurrying the amendment for his own political gain. Observers note that Boni got rid of a potential nuisance in Robert Dossou, who is former president of the Constitutional Court and who vehemently opposed any changes to the constitution.

In principle, major changes in the constitution are still quite unlikely because the full draft text presented to the National Assembly clearly states that:

Les options fondamentales suivantes énoncées à la Conférence Nationale des forces vives de la Nation de février 1990 et considérées comme socles de notre Constitution seront préservées. Il s’agit de : – l’Etat de droit , – la démocratie libérale; – la forme républicaine de l’Etat; – le multipartisme intégral; – la nature présidentielle du régime; – la limitation du mandat du Président de la République; – l’âge des candidats à l’élection du Président de la République.

The following options, as laid down in the National Conference of Active Forces of the Nation in February 1990, and considered to constitute the very core of our Constitution, will be retained. They are: – a State of Law – a liberal democracy; – A State based on republican principles; – a full multiparty system; – a presidential regime; – a time-limited Presidential mandate; – the age of candidates on election of the President of the Republic.

L'emblème du Bénin via wikipédia CC-BY-3.0

The crest of Benin courtesy of Wikipedia CC-BY-3.0

Furthermore, in an attempt to reassure the people of Benin and to guarantee a large consensus, the president of the National Assembly called for a consultation process to be organised on the content of the draft revisions to the constitution, stating that:

ce projet de loi portant sur la relecture de la loi fondamentale du Bénin respecte les engagements prises par la nation béninoise à la Conférence des Forces vives de la nation de février 1990, en ce qui concerne le mandat présidentiel de cinq ans renouvelable une fois, la limite d'âge de 40 ans au moins et 70 ans au plus pour tout candidat à l'élection présidentielle et enfin le type présidentiel du régime politique.   Outre ces acquis démocratiques, souligne le président du Parlement du Bénin, ce projet de loi portant révision de la Constitution béninoise du 11 décembre 1990, comporte trois principales innovations répondant parfaitement aux préoccupations de la classe politique béninoise, notamment la création et la constitutionnalisation de la Cour des comptes, la constitutionnalisation de la Commission électorale nationale autonome et enfin l'imprescriptibilité des crimes économiques dans le cadre de la moralisation de la vie publique.

This draft legislation, relating to the review of Benin's fundamental legislation, honours the commitments undertaken by the nation of Benin at the National Conference on Active Forces of the Nation in February 1990 in terms of the five-year presidential mandate, renewable only once, with a lower age limit of 40 and the upper age limit of 70 for all presidential candidates and, lastly, the nature of the presidential political regime. Aside from these democratic gains, the Benin's Parliamentary President has stressed that this draft legislation, seeking to revise Benin's 11 December 1990 Constitution, also brings with it three main innovations which respond perfectly to the preoccupations of Benin's political classes, most notably the creation and constitutionalisation of the Auditor's court, the constitutionalisation of the national, independent Electoral Commission and, finally, immunity from accountability for economic crimes in public office.

Ministers are very supportive of the president as operation “hands on my constitution”, referring to the slogan “hands off my constitution” used by opponents of the revisions, was launched on June 20, 2013 by government minister Beniot Degla with the aim of supporting the head of state's reforms. However, all of this has fallen well short of reassuring public opinion. On his blog, Benoit Illassa accuses the president of wanting to cripple Benin's democracy:

Selon les propos d'Abdourhamane Touré,journaliste, qu'il rapporte,Un autre coup est en préparation afin qu’il se donne les moyens de continuer au-delà de 2016 l’exercice du pouvoir d’Etat. On a vu cela venir. Le premier à l’avoir flairé, c’est Me Robert Dossou, ancien président de la Cour constitutionnelle. Jugé pendant toute sa présidence d’être aux ordres de Yayi Boni, il a refusé de donner carte blanche à une révision opportuniste de la constitution du 11 décembre 1990. Sans doute pour se venger et se mettre en position de force pour aller jusqu’au bout de ses ambitions, le président de la République ne l’a pas reconduit lors de la désignation des membres du gouvernement pour siéger à la 5ème mandature de la Cour constitutionnelle.

According to journalist Abdourhamane Touré, another coup is being prepared in order to allow him to retain State power beyond 2016. We saw that coming. The first person to suspect something was lawyer Robert Dossou, former president of the Constitutional court. Believed throughout his presidency to be under the control of Yayi Boni, he refused to give carte blanche to an opportunistic revision of the 11 December, 1990 constitution. By way undoubtedly of retaliation and to manoevre himself into a stronger position to fulfill his ambitions, the president of the republic did not renew his mandate following nomination by members of the government to chair a fifth session of the constitutional court.

The blogger also invites the president to refrain from touching so much as a single comma of the constitution. He thinks “the danger does not lie in modifying article 42 of our Constitution, but in the deft alterations with will pave the way for a new republic. And the journalist is not alone in his condemnation of this revision, politician Janvier Yahouedehou has also said no, and with reason:

Le contexte régional ne s’y prête pas. Modifier la Constitution de son pays au cours du deuxième et dernier mandat est la nouvelle trouvaille de certains chefs d’Etat africains pour s’éterniser au pouvoir. La stratégie est simple et reste la même : • Dans un premier temps, annoncer au peuple son engagement ferme à ne  pas briguer un autre mandat pour endormir les esprits ; • Dans un deuxième temps, utiliser des arguments comme la modernisation et la création de nouvelles institutions afin d’honorer des obligations vis-à-vis de partenaires financiers, etc. comme prétextes pour modifier la loi  fondamentale avec comme conséquence une nouvelle République, permettant de facto au chef de l’Etat sortant de se repositionner pour d’autres nouveaux mandats. Les exemples font aujourd’hui légion. 3- Le contexte national ne s’y prête pas. Il y a des besoins plus urgents: – En 2006 vous aviez promis aux béninois l’autonomie énergétique, où en sommes-nous 7 ans après au regard des graves situations de délestage ? – En 2006, vous aviez promis aux béninois, de transformer notre pays en un village numérique, où en sommes-nous sachant que le Bénin est classé avant-dernier en termes de qualité de l’internet par socialnetlink ? ….

The regional context does not lend itself to this. Modification of a country's constitution in the middle of a second and final mandate is the latest discovery by those African heads of state wanting to remain in permanent power. The strategy is simple and always the same: Initially, in order to quell any concerns, make a public announcement firmly stating a commitment to not seek a future mandate; Then, by way of pretext for modifying a fundamental law, use arguments such as modernisation and the creation of new institutions that will make it possible to honour obligations to financial partners, etc. There are now innumerable examples. 3 – the current situation within the country does not lend itself to this. There are more pressing concerns: – In 2006 you promised energy autonomy to the people of Benin, but seven years on, where are we on the question of power cuts? – In 2006 you promised the people of Benin that the entire country would go digital, where are we on that, bearing in mind that Benin is classified by socialnetlink as second last in terms of the quality of it's Internet provision? …

For others in opposition such as Charles Toko, an influential writer and Robert Dossou, former president of the constitutional court, a revision cannot be allowed. Dossou was removed from his position within the court because he decided: “[...] these are not things that can be subject to referendum, namely the fundamental options of the February 1990 National Conference: [...] the five-year presidential term, renewable only once…” and has thus sought to disrupt the despicable designs of the presidential circle.

Benin's Internet users are also voicing their refusal to accept revisions to the constitution and discussion is ongoing, especially on Twitter:

@lionelchobli: Tout le monde est en Révision au #Benin. Les enfants pour les examens et les papas pour la Constitution !

@lionelchobli: Everyone is being tested in #Benin. Children for exams, dads for the Constitution!

@domingo_inc: Stop! yayi boni pas de revision de constitution au Benin”

@domingo_inc: Stop it Yayi Boni no revision to the Benin constitution”

@Nangnin: Qu'est-ce j'apprends? Que le PR du Bénin veut changer la constitution pour se maintenir? J'espère que le bon sens l'en découragera #civ2010 ”

@Nangnin: What do I hear? That the president of Benin wants to change the constitution to keep power? I hope common sense will deter him #civ2010 ”

@Nangnin: @wirr2011 tu poses la bonne question: est-il opportun, nécessaire de modifier la constitution? #benin@macmady@freeci3

@Nangnin: @wirr2011 good question: Is it timely or even necessary to change the constitution? #benin@macmady@freeci3

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