The Republic of Benin was the seat of Dahomey, one of the great medieval African kingdoms, governed from the capital, Abomey, now a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Colonial Benin (formerly, République du Dahomey, (Republic of Dahomey))
Under the French, a port was constructed at Cotonou, and railroads were built. School facilities were expanded by Roman Catholic missions. In 1946, Dahomey became an overseas territory with its own parliament and representation in the French national assembly. On December 4, 1958, it became the République du Dahomey, self-governing within the French Community..
Between 1960 and 1972, a succession of military coups brought about many changes of government. The last of these brought to power Major Mathieu Kérékou as the head of a regime professing strict Marxist-Leninist principles. By 1975 the Republic of Dahomey changed its name to the People's Republic of Benin. The People's Revolutionary Party of Benin (PRPB) remained in complete power until the beginning of the 1990s. Kérékou, encouraged by France and other democratic powers, convened a national conference that introduced a new democratic constitution and held presidential and legislative elections. Kérékou's principal opponent at the presidential poll, and the ultimate victor, was Prime Minister Nicéphore Soglo. Supporters of Soglo also secured a majority in the National Assembly. Benin was thus the first African country to effect successfully the transition from dictatorship to a pluralistic political system.
In the second round of National Assembly elections held in March 1995, Soglo's political vehicle, the Parti de la Renaissance du Benin, was the largest single party but lacked an overall majority. The success of a party formed by supporters of ex-president Kérékou, who had officially retired from active politics, allowed him to stand successfully at both the 1996 and 2001 presidential elections.
During the 2001 elections, however, alleged irregularities and dubious practices led to a boycott of the run-off poll by the main opposition candidates. The four top-ranking contenders following the first round presidential elections were Mathieu Kérékou (incumbent) 45.4%, Nicephore Soglo (former president) 27.1%, Adrien Houngbédji (National Assembly Speaker) 12.6%, and Bruno Amoussou (Minister of State) 8.6%. The second round balloting, originally scheduled for March 18, 2001, was postponed for days because both Soglo and Houngbedji withdrew, alleging electoral fraud. This left Kérékou to run against his own Minister of State, Amoussou, in what was termed a "friendly match."
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