Thousands protest presidential election results in Togo

Thousands of opposition supporters marched through the Togolese capital on Saturday to protest the results of presidential elections that extended the Gnassingbe family’s nearly five decades in power.

Observers have called the April 25 election free and transparent and the United Nations has approved of the conduct of the vote, but the opposition in the west African nation of some seven million people has labelled the results fraudulent.

President Faure Gnassingbe won a third term in office with 59 percent of the ballots while his closest rival, longtime opposition leader Jean-Pierre Fabre, finished with 35 percent.

“We need people to be aware of the seriousness of the situation and that, together, we are working to stop it,” Fabre, who has declared himself the elected president, told AFP on Saturday.

Adele Wavisso, a 32-year-old bread seller among the protesters in Lome, said “those in power know very well that we did not vote for Faure. Our president is Fabre, and we will not give up.”

The opposition has said it decided not to challenge the results at Togo’s Constitutional Court because it was biased in favour of the president.

Gnassingbe’s father, Gnassingbe Eyadema, seized power in a coup and ruled with an iron fist for 38 years over the former German- and French-administered colony until his death in 2005.

The military then installed his son as leader and elections later that year were marred by allegations of rigging as well as violence which left up to 500 people dead and thousands injured.

Gnassingbe then won 2010 elections that the opposition also declared fraudulent but which were judged acceptable by the international community.

Photo Credits : AFP

Togo votes for a new president

Togo votes for a new president on Saturday, with the incumbent Faure Gnassingbe seeking a third term in office to extend his family’s grip on power into a second half-century.

Polling stations in the tiny West African nation open at 0700 GMT, with some 9,000 police and soldiers on patrol, and with borders shut until Sunday morning for security reasons.

Gnassingbe, 48, has been in power since the death of his father, Gnassingbe Eyadema, in 2005, winning contested elections that year and five years later.

Fears of election-linked violence are still fresh in the memory in Togo after some 500 people were killed and thousands more injured in the disputed 2005 vote, according to the UN.

The government announced the closure of land borders from 2100 GMT on Friday until 0600 GMT on Sunday “to ensure optimal security conditions” for the elections.

Armoured military vehicles were seen in the streets of the capital, Lome, on Friday, AFP journalists reported.

Some 3.5 million of Togo’s seven million people are registered to vote. They will choose between Gnassingbe and his beaten opponent from last time round, opposition leader Jean-Pierre Fabre.

On the campaign trail, Gnassingbe vaunted his introduction of free primary schools and infrastructure projects such as new roads.

But Fabre, who heads a five-party coalition called Combat for Political Change (CAP 2015), has called for regime change after 48 years of unbroken rule by the president and his father before him.

Few people in the former French colony have felt the benefit of recent economic growth and according to the government, unemployment is running at 29 percent.

Years of sanctions imposed by international bodies such as the European Union during Gnassingbe Eyadema’s autocratic regime have hit business and education, the administration maintains.

Faure Gnassingbe is considered the clear favourite going into the vote given the power of incumbency and the backing of the military, most of whom come from his home region in the north.

But Fabre is hoping for a repeat of the recent opposition victory of Muhammadu Buhari in Nigeria and the departure of neighbouring Burkina Faso’s Blaise Compaore last year after a popular uprising.

Gnassingbe won 60.88 percent of the vote against Fabre’s 33.93 percent in 2010. Some analysts believe the result could be closer if the opposition leader is able to mobilise stay-at-home voters.

Complaints about irregularities in the electoral register, including ghost voters, forced a 10-day postponement to the election.

More than 1,200 election observers, including from the West African bloc ECOWAS, the African Union and Togolese civil society, will be on hand to monitor voting.

The current ECOWAS chairman, Ghana’s President John Dramani Mahama, said this week that “the entire international community is watching” and called on candidates to accept the result.

Five candidates in all are contesting the election, which is held in one round.

One smaller opposition party has called for a boycott of the vote on the grounds that long-called-for constitutional reforms have not been obtained.

Currently there are no limits to the presidential mandate. The opposition has called for a two-term limit.

Photo Credits : AFP