The political evolution of Benin since the end of World War II (1939–45) has been largely outside the main currents of French West African politics and determined mainly by local factors. The leading political figures in the 1950s and 1960s were Sourou Apithy and Justin Ahomadegbé in the south and Hubert Maga in the north.
As a result of the first Legislative Assembly elections in April 1959, Apithy's Dahomeyan Republican Party (Parti Républicain du Dahomey— PRD) obtained 28 seats; Maga's Dahomeyan Democratic Rally (Rassemblement Démocratique Dahoméen— RDD), 22; and Ahomadegbé's Dahomey Democratic Union (Union Démocratique Dahoméenne—UDD), 20. A coalition of the three parties took office, with Maga as prime minister. In November 1960, after losing a vote of confidence, the UDD ministers resigned, and the PRD and RDD united first in the Dahomeyan Nationalist Party (Parti des Nationalistes de Dahomey) and then in the Dahomeyan Unity Party (Parti Dahoméen de l'Unité—PDU), again under Maga as prime minister. At the end of 1960, the PDU's single list of candidates won overwhelmingly over the UDD and thereby gained complete control of the executive and the legislature. In 1961, the UDD was banned, and Dahomey became a one-party state.
After the fall of the Maga government in October 1963, the PDU was disbanded and replaced by the Dahomeyan Democratic Party (Parti Démocratique Dahoméen), which was in turn dissolved following the 1965 military coup. The Union for Dahomeyan Renewal (Union pour le Renouveau du Dahomey) was later formed, but it was dissolved after the military coup of December 1969.
The Kérékou regime, which took power in 1972, appeared at first to be unwilling to return to party government, but following the adoption of a Marxist-Leninist policy in 1974, the government formed a political organization as the basis of a one-party state. This organization, which became known as the Party of the People's Revolution of Benin (Parti de la Révolution Populaire du Benin—PRPB), was the sole legal party until 1990. An illegal opposition group, the Front for the Liberation and Rehabilitation of Dahomey, was reportedly responsible for the 1977 coup attempt. The three major political and regional leaders—Maga, Apithy, and Ahomadegbé—remained under house arrest in Benin until 1981, when they were allowed to leave the country.
In 1986, President Kérékou began to modify his Marxism-Leninism and, by December 1989, the ideology was officially abandoned.
Partisan politics are characterized by frequent splits and mergers. Party allegiances in the National Assembly are fluid. The 1990 multiparty general elections produced a National Assembly in which the largest bloc of votes (12 of 64) were held by a Coalition of Democratic Forces (RFD), made up of The Forces of Progress (UDFP), the Movement for Democracy and Social Progress (MDPS), and the Union for Liberty and Development (ULD). This group was renamed the Union Pour le Triomphe du Renouveau Democratique (UTRD-Union for the Triumph of Democratic Renewal) in March 1992. At its peak, it could count on 34 deputy votes. It was replaced on 30 October 1993 by the African Assembly for Progress (RAP) and was composed of 11 parties and associations. The second largest bloc, with nine seats, was the Alliance of the National Party for Democracy and Development (PNDD) and the Démocratic Renewal Party (PRD). Kérékou's PRPB had been reduced to one of a number of opposition groups, although it was popular in the armed forces.
The National Convention for the Forces of Change, formed in February 1993, was an alliance of opposition groups. The Communist Party of Benin was registered in October 1993. In 1994 the Party for the Renaissance of Benin (PRB) was founded by then-President Soglo's wife. Soglo, who had previously aligned himself with no party, was quickly elected head of the party. In the 1995 legislative elections, the PRB emerged with the largest bloc of seats (20) in the newly expanded National Assembly— now made up of 84 seats. Parties closely allied with the PRB won an additional 13 seats. The remainder was split among 25 smaller parties, with the largest opposition bloc being the PRD, which won 19 seats. Kérékou's newly formed Action for Renewal and Development (FARD-ALAFIA) took 10 seats; PSD, 7; Our Common Cause, 3; Liberal Democrats, 3; Communist Party, 2; Alliance Chameleon, 1; RDP, 1; Alliance for Democracy and Progress, 1; and others, 16.
The March 1999 elections produced 70% turnover in the National Assembly where opposition party candidates held a slim majority. Overall, they took 42 of 83 seats, leaving 41 seats to be shared among pro-Kérékou parties. Adrien Houngbedji (PRD) became president of the National Assembly. In November 1999, the Ministry of the Interior registered Benin's 118th party, the PRD-Arc-en-ciel, which was led by Kamarou Fassassi, formerly campaign director for Houngbedji. Soglo made his comeback as the PRB presidential candidate in 2001. His party won 27 seats in the March 1999 elections. Also winning seats were the PRD, 11; FARD, 10; PSD, 9; African Movement for Democracy and Progress (MADEP), 6; and 11 other parties took the remaining seats.