COTONOU (REUTERS) - - The ruling alliance of Benin President Thomas Boni Yayi lost seats in a parliamentary election last week, initial results showed, weakening his ability to push through a constitutional reform plan. The elections commission announced late on Friday that Boni Yayi’s Cowry Forces for an Emerging Benin (FCBE) won 32 seats in the 83-seat National Assembly, down from 41 in the previous parliament. The scores announced by the commission will only be considered official preliminary results once they are announced by the Constitutional Court, likely later this weekend. But they indicate a loss of seats that would put the FCBE well short of the four-fifths majority needed for constitutional reform. The three principal opposition parties together equaled the FCBE’s score, also claiming 32 seats in a vote that saw turnout of nearly 66 percent. Boni Yayi says he wants to introduce constitutional changes, including the naming of a state auditor, to fight graft and ensure democratic elections in the West African cotton producer. Opponents claim the move is part of a bid to scrap term limits so he can run for a third term from 2016. Boni Yayi has repeatedly said he will step down at the end of his term next year. Constitutional reform has been a tool used by other African leaders to stay in office, though Benin is one of Africa’s strongest democracies and its Constitutional Court has ruled that term limits cannot be altered as part of the reforms. Neighbouring Burkina Faso’s long-ruling president, Blaise Compaore, attempted to scrap limits last year and was driven out of power by protests. The parity between Boni Yayi’s supporters and the opposition will likely boost the influence of the half dozen parties controlling the remaining 19 seats.
Reporting by Allegresse Sasse; Writing by Joe Bavier; Editing by Leslie Adler