Fri. May 17th, 2024

Togolese vote in legislative elections on Monday after a divisive constitutional reform that opponents say allows President Faure Gnassingbe to extend his family’s decades-long grip on power.

The ballot comes after lawmakers approved the reform this month that creates a new prime minister-style post opponents fear is tailored for Gnassingbe to avoid presidential term limits and stay in office.

In power for nearly 20 years, Gnassingbe succeeded his father Gnassingbe Eyadema, who ruled for almost four decades himself following a coup in the small coastal West African state between Benin and Ghana.

Monday’s vote will elect 113 lawmakers and also for the first time 179 regional deputies from the country’s five districts who along with municipal councillors will elect a newly created Senate.

For Gnassingbe’s ruling UNIR party this makes Togo more representative, but opposition parties have mobilised supporters to vote against what they  say is an “institutional coup”.

“We want a strong turnout on Monday so we can give the opposition the chance to win and take control of the parliament,” said Afi Akladji, a shoe seller and a supporter of the main ANC opposition party.

“We are not in a kingdom, the opposition will win these elections.” 

Gnassingbe, 57, has already won four elections, all contested by the opposition as flawed. He would have only been able to run one more time as president in 2025 under the previous constitution.

According to the new constitution adopted by lawmakers on April 19, Togo’s president becomes a mostly ceremonial role elected by parliament, and not the people, for a four-year term.

Togo shifts from a presidential to a parliamentary system, meaning power resides with the new president of the council of ministers, a sort of super-Prime Minister, who automatically will be the leader of the majority party in the new assembly.

Gnassingbe’s Union for the Republic, or UNIR party, already dominates parliament. If the ruling party wins on Monday, Gnassingbe can assume that new post.

For supporters, extending Gnassingbe’s time means continuing with his development programmes, which they say have improved infrastructure.

“We have roads, particularly in Lome, schools have been built, projects have been initiated for women, young people and farmers,” said Evariste Yalo, 31, a computer technician and UNIR activist. 

“The country is moving, in the right way. That’s why the president must continue.”

Regional West African body ECOWAS said it would send a team of observers to Togo for the vote. But the buildup to Monday’s election has seen a tightening of controls.

Opposition attempts to organise protests against the reforms were blocked by authorities.

Togo’s Electoral Commission refused to allow the Togolese Bishops’ Conference to deploy election observers across the country, according to a document seen by AFP.

Togo’s High Authority for Audiovisual and Communication (HAAC) also temporarily suspended all accreditation for the foreign press to cover the elections.

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