Benin President Patrice Talon is among 20 candidates who have filed their names with the electoral commission for the West African nation's April presidential ballot, officials said on Friday.
Many Benin opposition figures are either in exile or are barred from running in the election, bringing charges a former French colony long seen as a model of democracy has veered into authoritarianism.
Some opposition leaders have formed a coalition backing little-known academic Joel Aivo as a single candidate against Talon despite fears the incumbent faces little challenge in the April 11 election.
A total of 20 candidates have notified their run for the presidency, an election commission official told AFP.
The constitutional court must rule on the validity of each application.
Talon's running mate, Mariam Chabi Talata, also presented her candidacy, and she would be the country's first vice president if elected. The post is newly created.
The opposition says the election is already fixed in favour of Talon, especially after a new provision of the electoral law requiring each candidate to be formally sponsored by 16 mayors or members of parliament.
An electoral commission source said only Talon and the large opposition FCBE party's candidate had so far presented the sponsorship requirement, but other candidates had until Sunday to hand in required documentation.
"Our application is the proof that we want to go to the elections," another opposition candidate, Reckyath Madougou, said after depositing her folder.
"We are not asking for a favour. We want the elections to be open and to win them."
Talon's would-be vice president Talata dismissed concerns over the election.
"The movement is there for the smooth running of democracy," she said when presenting her documents.
When he was first elected in 2016 on a modernising platform and a vow to stamp out corruption and mismanagement, cotton baron Talon said he intended to serve only one term.
But opposition parties said they had no doubt that Talon, 62, would seek re-election.
They accuse Talon of leading a country once praised for multi-party democracy down an authoritarian road and say he is behind a crackdown that drove key rivals into exile.
During parliamentary elections in April 2019, no opposition parties were allowed to present lists of candidates for the vote.
A year later, only six opposition challengers to sitting mayors won in municipal elections that were boycotted by some opponents.
Part of the divided opposition has since founded a coalition, the Front for the Restoration of Democracy, to join forces against Talon, uniting behind Aivo.