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Polls close in Togo after smooth presidential election

Text by FRANCE 24

Latest update : 2010-03-05

Polling stations have closed in Togo after a peaceful presidential election that offered a stark contrast to previous violence-ridden polls. Voters now wait with bated breath amid fears of possible election fraud.

Togo’s polls closed early Thursday evening, in a presidential election that is widely viewed as a test of democracy for the tiny west African country, which is notorious for electoral violence. Voters now wait with bated breath for the election results, amid opposition fears that incumbent President Faure Gnassingbé may seek to rig the results.

Polls opened at 7 am local time on Thursday with hundreds of voters lining up at polling stations in the Togolese capital of Lomé. FRANCE 24 special correspondent Christopher Moore, reporting from a polling station in Lomé, said voting in the early hours was calm.
Some three million citizens are expected to choose between seven candidates, including incumbent President Faure Gnassingbé -- son of Togo’s late dictator, General Gnassingbé Eyadema, who ruled Togo for 38 years.
Togolese opposition politicians however have voiced concerns of fraud.
“Everything that we asked for, all our demands to ensure a transparent election, were refused,” opposition candidate Jean-Pierre Fabre told FRANCE 24 on Thursday. “I have no confidence in the independent electoral commission. If the elections are contestable, we will dispute them. We are a political party and have the right to contest the poll.”
The ruling party has, however, maintained that the country’s electoral system was formed under agreements that reflect Togo’s diverse political landscape.
“Whenever we had a problem organizing the election, it was resolved through a consensus,” the Togolese minister for planning and development, Gilbert Bawara, told FRANCE 24.
Seeking a break with the past
The country’s troubled history of coups and flawed elections has led many to question the vote. "Everything is played out in advance," said Lancine Camara, president of the International Union of African Journalists, in an interview with FRANCE 24 before the election  
The 2005 presidential election, which brought Gnassingbé to power, was decried by the opposition and international observers, and some 500 Togolese were killed in election-related violence.
This time around, Togo hopes to restore faith in the electoral process, both among Togolese citizens and in the eyes of the international community. “In terms of what’s at stake, it’s very much about [a] break with the past,” says FRANCE 24 special correspondent Christopher Moore, reporting from Lome.
'Culture of fraud'
The sudden death of Togo’s former strongman, General Eyadema, in February 2005 saw Faure Gnassingbé put in power by the army, before he went on to win the marred elections that were hastily arranged in the wake of his father’s death.
This troubled history leads experts and observers to doubt that a fair outcome is possible for the new polls.
"Faure Gnassingbé ... might present himself as a builder of modern times, but one fears that the presidential elections will not be very democratic,” Camara says.
The country remains deeply divided by Eyadema’s reign. His son has sought to make big changes in government, including replacing old loyalists with a new guard. He also nominated a leading opposition figure, Yawovi Agboyibo, to head a unity government. Today, Agboyibo is among his election opponents.
“It is true that efforts have been made,” said Albert Bourgi, an Africa specialist and law professor at the University of Reims. “But the particularly turbulent political history of Togo has shown several times that presidential elections do not take place in the best of conditions.”



Date created : 2010-03-04

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