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Presidential election brings fresh test of democracy

Text by FRANCE 24

Latest update : 2010-03-03

Togo faces a test of democracy in Thursday's presidential poll. Voters will pick a president for the first time since the disputed vote in 2005, when hundreds died in post-election violence.

Voters in Togo head to the polls on Thursday in what is seen as a test of democracy for the west African country, notorious for electoral violence.

Some three million citizens are expected to choose between seven candidates, including incumbent President Faure Gnassingbé.

Togo’s troubled history of coups and flawed elections has led many to question the vote. "Everything is played out in advance,"  Lancine Camara, president of the International Union of African Journalists (UIJA) told FRANCE 24.

President Gnassingbé has called the poll a “test of legitimacy” for him and the other candidates in a recent AFP interview. He said that he hoped the upcoming ballot would end political violence and disputes.

The 2005 presidential election, which brought Gnassingbé to power, was decried by the opposition and international observers, with some 500 Togolese killed in electoral violence.

'Culture of fraud'

Togo was ruled for 38 years by a strongman, General Eyadema. After his sudden death in February 2005, his son Faure Gnassingbé was first put in power by the army, before going on to win quickly-held elections.

This history leads experts and observers to doubt a fair outcome for the new polls. 

"Faure Gnassingbé..... might present himself as a builder of modern times, but one fears that the presidential elections would not be very democratic,” says Camara.

The country had been deeply divided by the reign of Eyadema. His son sought to make changes in government, including replacing old loyalists with a new guard.

Gnassingbé also nominated a leading opposition figure, Yawovi Agboyibo, to the head of a unity government. Today, Agboyibo is among his election opponents.

“It is true that efforts have been made,” said Albert Bourgi, Africa specialist and law professor at the University of Reims.

“But the particularly turbulent political history of Togo has shown several times that the presidential elections did not unfold in the best of conditions. Gestures of overture would not remove the suspicions which already hang over this election," he says.

“It's a safe bet that the culture of fraud will ultimately prevail”.

Opposition in disarray

The opposition has frequently denounced irregularities in the electoral process.

Jean-Pierre Fabre from the Union of Forces for Change (UFC) has accused the country’s National Independent Electoral Commission (CENI) of having "inflated" electoral lists from Gnassingbé strongholds in the north.

Gnassingbe’s detractors also accuse him of having two of his most serious adversaries removed from the race. Gilchrist Olympio (the son of independent Togo’s first leader) and Kofi Yamgnane, a former secretary of state, were forced to step down due to apparent electoral regulatory violations.

Other candidates – Yawovi Agboyibo and Brigitte Kafui Adjamagbo-Johnson – have also raised doubts on whether they intend to participate in the election.

There have also been demands for changes in the voting system, from one-round system to two-rounds. But Gnassingbé pushed the possible adoption of a two-round system to after the elections – thus favouring his own candidacy, according to Bourgi.

"A one-round election is extremely favourable to Gnassingbé, and the Togolese know that,” says Bourgi. “This is this election’s big flaw, because it can eventually compromise this legitimacy that the president so wants”.

Date created : 2010-03-02

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