Benin has withstood six coups, autocratic rule, and a Marxist-Leninist experiment. Major Mathieu Kérékou seized power on 26 October 1972 and dictated one-party rule, nationalization of private enterprises, and a Marxist ideology. His regime suffered from corruption on many levels. Amid mounting political pressure, Benin became a model for democratization in Africa when Kérékou convened a National Conference in 1990 that ushered in multiparty democracy. For the first time in African history, an incumbent leader was defeated at the ballot box as Nicephore D. Soglo, an economist and technocrat, replaced Kérékou on 24 March 1991. His regime was criticized for adhering to impossible demands by the International Monetary Fund (IMF), and this resulted in a major electoral defeat for Soglo's Benin Renaissance Party (PRB) in the 28 March 1995 national assembly elections. In 1996, the voters turned Soglo out and gave Mathieu Kérékou a second chance at leading the country.
The present political structure is a product of the February 1990 National Conference. The new Constitution, approved by referendum on 2 December 1990, instituted a multiparty presidential system. The president is elected by universal suffrage for a five-year term, renewable once. In presidential elections, a single candidate must win a majority of the votes. If there is no majority winner, then the two candidates with the most votes participate in a two-way runoff election. The National Assembly consists of 83 deputies serving four-year terms. To check executive authority, the Constitution guaranteed an independent judiciary and a Constitutional Court, an Economic and Social Council, and a media-regulating authority.
Local government consists of twelve provinces subdivided into 86 districts and 510 communes, while local administration, appointed by the national government, is assigned to elected provincial, district, town, and village councils.