Country Report Benin April 2008

The political scene: Proposed constitutional reform moves ahead

Plans for substantial changes to Benin's December 1990 constitution were put into practice on February 20th with the appointment of a commission, the Commission technique ad hoc chargée de la relecture de la Constitution Béninoise, which was originally announced in October 2007 (January 2008, The political scene). At its inauguration ceremony Mr Yayi stated: "The Beninese need to leave behind the concept of Marxism-Leninism in 1990. The spirit of our constitution was then centred upon fundamental rights and individual liberties, above and to the detriment of, everything else." Mr Yayi also claimed that the current constitution does not lend itself to political stability, failing to clearly state the functions and systems by which the country is supposed to be governed. Mr Yayi's comments at the inauguration of the commission have left many wondering what the proposed amendments will be. The commission, presided over by a professor and former member of the Constitutional Court, Maurice Ahanhanzo-Glèle, has been given six months to report back to the president with suggested constitutional changes.

In order to achieve constitutional reform, Mr Yayi will have to persuade a public distrustful of politicians' attempts to change the constitution for what it regards as being for the politicians' own benefit. To calm these feelings, the president announced that the constitutional revision would not be overly concerned with the articles governing limits of governmental terms, the president's age or the duration of the terms of deputies in the National Assembly. Any constitutional reform will require a great effort to be passed, since the president's allies only hold a slim majority in the National Assembly. Amendments to the constitution can be passed only with the votes of three-quarters of the National Assembly, and must then be approved by a popular referendum, unless it is initially approved by fourth-fifths of the members of the National Assembly. Currently, the FCBE and its allies do not have a sufficiently strong majority to push through controversial reform measures, which means that any changes would probably require a popular referendum.

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