When he was sworn in as Benin’s president a year ago today, Patrice Talon, a business mogul known as the “king of cotton,” vowed to serve only one term and said he would try to enshrine that limit into law. On a continent where multiple presidents, from Burundi to Burkina Faso and beyond, have attempted with varying success to circumvent constitutionally imposed term limits in recent years, Talon’s promise—and his warnings about the complacency of long-serving leaders—set him apart as someone with potentially stronger democratic credentials.
This week, however, Talon’s ability to make good on that promise was dealt a severe, potentially fatal blow by Benin’s lawmakers. On Tuesday, they narrowly rejected a series of proposed constitutional revisions that included restricting a president’s time in power from two five-year terms to one six-year term. The revisions, which Talon submitted to the National Assembly on March 15, also addressed public financing for political parties and a restructuring of the Constitutional Court and High Court of Justice. In all, 60 lawmakers endorsed a proposal to examine the revisions on the merits, while 22 voted against and one abstained. Talon needed the support of three-quarters of the assembly—or 63 lawmakers—for the proposal to move forward and eventually be put to a referendum.
It is not clear what Talon’s next step will be. After the vote, his justice minister, Joseph Djogbenou, expressed confidence that the constitutional changes would eventually happen, albeit not according to the government’s desired timeline. At least in the short term, analysts suspect the government will turn its attention to other priorities.