Benin - Politics, government, and taxation

Benin (once known as Dahomey) became a French colony in 1900 and was granted independence in 1960. Since that time it has experienced severe political turbulence. Hubert Maga, elected under a multi-party system and the country's first president, was ousted in a coup (a domestic military takeover of a government) in 1963, and regular changes of government then ensued until another coup in 1972 brought General Kerekou to the presidency. In 1974 Marxism -Leninism (the political and economic doctrines of Karl Marx and Vladimir Ilyich Lenin) became the country's official ideology. Major companies, banks, and offices were nationalized . Corruption followed and the economy contracted so sharply that the government was unable to pay wages, which led to strikes and eventually to a crisis in 1989. Kerekou convened a national conference of leading politicians, including opposition representation, later in 1989, which resulted in the creation of a multi-party democracy. A new constitution was adopted after a referendum in 1990. Legislative and presidential elections were held in 1991, and in a contest with Kerekou, Nicephore Soglo was elected president with 67 percent of the vote. Since the creation of the new constitution in 1990, Benin has, according to the U.S. State Department, been viewed as "a democratic model not only for its West African region but even for the entire continent."

Soglo became unpopular due to the persistence of economic problems—the inability of the government to pay salaries, high inflation, and shortages of basic commodities—and he succeeded in alienating his supporters such that he lost the 1996 election to Kerekou. In the meantime, Kerekou had renounced his military title, developed a new tolerance for the free market economy, and expressed his determination to combat corruption. Despite opposition from 16 other candidates, and a second round run-off (from which Soglo withdrew), Kerekou was successful at the polls in 2001 and secured another presidential term.

The 1990 constitution instituted a 5-year presidency, with the president eligible for re-election only once. The president has executive power and can suspend parliament with court approval. The members of the 83-seat assembly serve a 4-year terms. The position of prime minister (created in 1996) was dissolved in 1998 due to conflict between the president and the prime minister over executive powers.

Currently the main parties are fragmenting, leading to the formation of unstable coalitions, which has also decreased the effectiveness of the parliament. This dissension is likely to continue in the near future. Mr. Kerekou's coalition and the opposition are roughly equally represented in the assembly, meaning that the smaller parties can decide the parliamentary majority by aligning with one side or the other. Such tactical alliances have succeeded in blocking much government legislation. The trade unions are very powerful and are able to challenge the government's economic and fiscal policies through strikes, which also tend to lead to civil unrest and severe economic losses.

Benin raises less than 10 percent of the GDP in tax revenue and receives a further 2 percent in surpluses from state-owned enterprises, mainly monopolies . About 50 percent of government spending goes to social services (which includes health and education), about 14 percent on the armed forces, and the remainder is absorbed by general public sector administration. The military is an important influence in political life, and it has seized power though coups on several occasions. The relatively high level of spending on the military is an attempt to prevent alienation of the armed forces.

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