Benin’s parliament narrowly rejected a draft bill by President Patrice Talon on Tuesday for a referendum to reform the constitution, including a provision to reduce presidential terms from the current two to one.
Lawmakers voted on Monday 60 to 22 in favour of the bill, with one abstention, but it needed 63 out of the total of 83 available votes to be passed and go to a referendum.
Those who voted against the changes said there should have been a public debate.
Talon came to power a year ago, promising to reduce the term limit because he said two terms were a cause of “complacency”.
Benin presidents can currently serve two five-year stints, and the bill wanted to shrink that to one six-year mandate.
Talon’s efforts to reduce term limits after a year in office contrasts with some other African leaders, including in Rwanda, Congo Republic and Burundi, who have scrapped them to stay in power.
His peaceful election last year was seen as reinforcing the democratic credentials of the small nation in a West African region where polls are often marred by violence, intimidation and rigging.
Talon, a successful businessman, succeeded Thomas Boni Yayi, who bowed out after serving a maximum two five-year terms, marking him out from many African leaders who have tried to change their country’s constitution to stay in power.
Such a peaceful change of power is not new in Benin, as there have been such transitions three times in the past, making the West African country a role model in the continent. In 1991, Benin held its first free elections since 1972 that were won by Prime Minister Nicephore Soglo, marking the first successful transfer of power from a military dictatorship to a democracy in Africa.
Sesan Adeola with Reuters