Executive power is exercised by the government. Legislative power is vested in both the government and the legislature. The Judiciary is independent of the executive and the legislature. The current political system is derived from the 1990 Constitution of Benin and the subsequent transition to democracy in 1991.
In part spurred by the collapse of the Soviet Union and the resultant lack of donor support from the superpower, as well as an economic crisis within the country, Benin adopted a new constitution in 1990 in order to open up and liberalise the political system and economy.
Its chief aims are to enshrine in law accountability, transparency, freedom of religion, freedom of the press, separation of governmental powers, the right to strike, universal suffrage (at age 18) and independence of the judiciary.
These developments have created economic growth in Benin, but some of the bold ideals of the constitution have yet to be fully realised. Lack of accountability and transparency, failure to separate the judiciary from the political system, and high levels of illiteracy are the main stumbling blocks. Additionally, state employees are poorly paid, which makes them susceptible to bribery and corruption.
There are unresolved issues with many pre-constitution laws which contradict the constitution. Many of the older laws derive from French legal norms as France was the former colonial power. Critics have also complained that the constitution makes no mention of the right to an adequate standard of living.
Since being written, the constitution has been translated into eight of the national languages of Benin. Broadcasts on local radio stations, in both in urban and rural areas, have publicised the constitution across the country.
The President of Benin is elected for a five-year term. An individual can serve only two terms. Election is by absolute majority which, after a second round if necessary.
Candidates must be:
In 2006, Mathieu Kérékou was not constitutionally permitted to run for re-election since he had already served two terms and was over 70 years old. Despite speculation, this was not changed and he stood down after the election of his successor, Yayi Boni.
The Cabinet is under the authority of the President, and serves to advise and help formulate strategies. It also liaises with ministries and other government institutions. The Benin government's website has a full list and a selection of photos of senior ministers.
The National Assembly is the Parliament of Benin - the primary legislative body. Deputies are elected every four years, in contrast to the five-year term of the president. There are 83 available seats. It exercises the legislative power and oversight authority over Government action. Members of the army are not allowed to stand unless they resign from their military position.
Elections and political parties
For other political parties see List of political parties in Benin. An overview on elections and election results is included in Elections in Benin.
During the 2001 presidential elections alleged irregularities led to a boycott of the run-off poll by the main opposition candidates.
The four top-ranking contenders following the first round presidential elections were Mathieu Kérékou (incumbent) 45.4%, Nicephore Soglo (former president) 27.1%, Adrien Houngbédji (National Assembly Speaker) 12.6%, and Bruno Amoussou (Minister of State) 8.6%. The second round balloting, originally scheduled for March 18, 2001, was postponed for days because both Soglo and Houngbédji withdrew, alleging electoral fraud.
This left Kérékou to run against his own Minister of State, Amoussou, in what was termed a "friendly match". The next presidential elections were held in March 2006; with both Kérékou and Soglo constitutionally unable to stand, political newcomer Yayi Boni was elected, defeating Houngbédji in a second round of voting. Yayi Boni and his parliamentary allies also won the elections of 2011.
The Constitutional Court allows private citizens to challenge the government. This has been used particularly in cases of workplace discrimination. The Supreme Court has the highest level of jurisdiction in legal matters. It is designed as a check on the executive, and also acts in a consultative role. The High Court of Justice, which cannot include the President, is made up of members of the Constitutional Court, Parliament and the president of the Supreme Court. It alone can judge the President.
Audiovisual and Communication Authority
This institution guarantees the freedom of the press and access to the media. It is also charged with ensuring all citizens have access to official information.