Opposition candidate claims victory ahead of poll results

Jean-Pierre Fabre, the main challenger to outgoing President Faure Gnassingbe in Togo's presidential election, claimed the elections were full of "irregularities" including "ballot box stuffing," and has declared himself the victor.


Jean-Pierre Fabre, the main opponent of outgoing President Faure Gnassingbe in Togo's presidential election, claimed Friday to have won the poll held the previous day.

"We have won the presidential election of March 4," Fabre, the candidate of the Union of Forces for Change (UFC), told a news conference in the Togolese capital Lome, before official figures were released.

Voting was peaceful, and sometimes festive, in the capital as people filed into polling stations to choose among seven candidates including incumbent Faure Gnassingbe, son of late dictator Gnassingbe Eyadema.


The 43-year-old former mines minister and financial adviser under his father is seeking a second term and has the backing of the ruling Togolese People's Rally.

But many voters called for change, mindful that his father, Eyadema, had ruled Togo unchallenged for 38 years until his death.

"We want change, we are fed-up, we want total freedom, we want our rights," declared mobile phone engineer Leornard Ablawoun.


"For 40 years, we were taken for a ride, the regime monopolised power forcefully.

"Several times people voted for the opposition, but we were cheated, there was repression, dissidents were forced into exile in Ghana and elsewhere. Now we want to fight this to the end," he said.

Campaigning ended peacefully on Tuesday in contrast with violence that marked the 2005 election, when hundreds died in clashes.

The main challenger, Jean-Pierre Fabre, 58, warned against any vote-rigging.

"During the campaign, I went round the country and heard a distress call, a desire for change," said the economist from the opposition Union of Forces for Change (UFC) after he voted in Lome.


"I therefore want to warn all those who will be tempted to change the vote of the Togolese. The people will make sure their vote will not be changed," he said.

The UFC is the party of Togo's first post-independent leader Sylvanus Olympio, who was killed in a coup masterminded by Eyadema in the 1960s.

Under a beating sun in the Be Pa de Souza quarter of the capital, 24-year-old Edem said he voted for the "palm tree", the symbol of the opposition.

"I know that they are not a magic wand but I was born in 1986 and I have only known this regime and have seen things get worse," he said.

"In Togo, cronyism, tribal links and connections to the regime are the only ways to get a job," he said, sharing a meal of rice with a group of others.

Edem gave an example of two friends: one a physiotherapist and the other with a master's degree in physical sciences. "Both are out of work," he said.

Many joke about corruption, like 29-year-old Hubert who quipped: "Ministers even air-condition their garages to keep their cars cool."

There are more than three million voters eligible to choose a new leader for Togo, which is one of the smallest countries in Africa with a population of 6.5 million.

It is the world's fourth largest producer of phosphate but most of its people are poor and survive mainly on subsistence agriculture.

About 320 international observers and 146 military observers were deployed by the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) to monitor the election, in which voters mark their choice with a thumb-print.

"Everything is going on well," African Union observer Salif Kamaloh Turabi told AFP.

The former German-French colony has a history of violence beginning with Eyadema's coup in 1967.

Gnassingbe was initially thrust into office by the military without an election after his father died in 2005 but later stepped down for the polls to be organised.

That election was the first democratic vote in Togo in 15 years and led to the resumption of aid by major donors, including the European Union.

But the violence that followed left up to 800 dead according to various sources, but the United Nations put the toll at between 400 to 500.

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