Benin votes, with just one choice
Benin votes on Sunday for a new parliament but without a single opposition candidate, as rights groups warn of a crackdown in a country once seen as a model for democracy.
When polls open at 7:00am (0600 GMT), voters in the small West African state will select their 83 members of parliament from two parties both allied to President Patrice Talon.
Protests have been broken up by force.
"The wave of arbitrary arrests of political activists and journalists, and the crackdown on peaceful protests, have reached an alarming level," Amnesty International said.
Election watchdogs ruled last month that only the two parties allied to Talon met toughened conditions of admissibility under new electoral laws.
Their decision effectively barred the entire political opposition from fielding candidates.
"This follows the Electoral Commission's decision to authorise only two political parties -- both from the presidential camp -- to stand in the elections and to exclude all opposition candidates' lists," said Amnesty researcher Francois Patuel.
In Benin's economic capital, Cotonou, a stream of cars and trucks pass by painted in the colours of the two parties, the Progressives and Republicans.
With blanket bans on demonstrations, there seems little reaction. Even after two ex-presidents, Nicephorus Soglo and Thomas Boni Yayi, urged people to take to the streets to protest, there was little response.
People say they are "stunned" and "shocked" by the situation.
"Banning peaceful protests and detaining those who speak up against the exclusion of opposition parties from the legislative election will only fuel political turmoil," Amnesty's Patuel added.
Before 1991, Benin struggled under decades of authoritarian rule. The transition to democracy brought a flowering of political competition -- five years ago, voters could chose from 20 parties for the 83 seats in parliament.
But this year, lawmakers from the ruling party pushed through a new electoral code.
Talon, elected in 2016, portrays himself as reformer and modernist. He has defended the electoral code, saying it would bring together the scores of political parties into simpler blocs.
But critics say the rules were too tough and bureaucratic, and opposition parties failed to meet all the administrative requirements in time.
"The goal of the reforms has never been to prevent people from going to the election," presidential communications advisor Wilfried Houngbedji said, blaming the opposition for not meeting the requirements.
Some thought that Talon might postpone the vote, to give time for the opposition to meet the new requirements.
But Houngbedji said that was not within the president's power.
"By what right can the head of state interrupt an electoral process?" Houngbedji said.
Several international and domestic observers have scrapped their missions to monitor the polls.
"All politicians were convinced that the electoral code needed to be changed," said Fatoumatou Batoko-Zossou, who heads a coalition of civil society groups. "But it is the way it has been done that is the problem."
Several opponents and journalists have been arrested, or questioned by police.
Batoko-Zossou worries about unrest, warning of the importance of promoting peace.
"Benin has always been considered a country of peace, we have never known war -- but it is not a reason to rest on our laurels," she said.
"After all, we have always been told that our country is a cradle of democracy... and look today at what is happening."
The president is, however, apparently not worried. Polls close at 4:00pm (1500 GMT), with little doubt that the new parliament will back the presidency in its entirety.
"The resentment will pass," his advisor Houngbedji said. "On Monday, life will resume its normal course."