Benin opposition party wins seats in parliament after more open election

COTONOU (Reuters) - An opposition party in Benin won enough votes in a legislative vote last week to join the two ruling parties in parliament, although they retained a firm majority, the electoral commission announced on Wednesday.

Sunday's poll was viewed as a test of democracy as opposition parties that boycotted or were excluded from previous elections returned to the ballot.

The two parties already in power - the Union Progressiste le Renouveau and the Bloc Republicain - came first and second with 37.56% and 29.17% of the vote respectively, the provisional results showed.

The Democrates party linked to President Patrice Talon's predecessor and rival Thomas Boni Yayi came third with 24.02%.

None of the remaining four parties competing for the 109 seats gathered enough votes to meet the 10% threshold for parliamentary representation.

The results are an indicator of the balance of power as political forces prepare for the next presidential election in 2026 that will determine Talon's successor if he steps down as expected.

Benin's image as a bastion of democracy and stability in West Africa has been dented under Talon, who went back on a pledge not to run for a second term and oversaw an opposition crackdown since coming to power in 2016. Talon has denied has denied targeting political opponents or violating human rights.

Political protests have been met with deadly police violence, while politicised prosecutions and other legal tactics have been used to stifle the opposition, U.S. democracy watchdog Freedom House said in a 2022 report.

Boni Yayi's supporters led demonstrations in 2019 after opposition parties were blocked from the legislative vote for failing to meet strict new election criteria.

Voter turnout was a low 38.66% on Sunday, the electoral commission said, despite analysts predicting it would be higher as more parties were involved.

Talon does not belong to any party but is supported by the Bloc Republicain and Union Progressiste le Renouveau.

(Reporting by Pulcherie Adjoha; Writing by Sofia Christensen; Editing by Alison Williams)