Dakar — The next presidential and local elections in Togo, scheduled respectively for the end of 2013 and in 2015, may be held amid serious tensions if the electoral reforms proposed in 2006 are not implemented.
Thanks to renewed talks between the opposition and the government, the parliamentary elections held on 25 July 2013 revealed the extent of the divisions in the Togolese political class.
Led by Archbishop Nicodème Barrigah, former president of the Togolese Truth, Justice and Reconciliation Commission, and the United States ambassador to Lomé, Robert Whitehead, this dialogue has allowed the organisation of the legislative elections and the establishment of a new National Assembly. However, it has not solved the underlying problems regarding their organisation, especially in view of the forthcoming elections. Local elections were last held in 1981.
The talks of 8 July 2013, which addressed issues dating back to the Global Political Agreement (GPA) signed in Ouagadougou on 20 August 2006 by Togolese political actors and civil society, have led to a preliminary agreement. This agreement has restated the conclusions of the GPA, which allowed the 2007 parliamentary elections to be organised, leaving it up to the victorious party to pursue reforms. However, these reforms were not fully implemented until the 8 July talks. Opposition politicians have resorted to violent speeches after the parliamentary elections in July 2013, seeking to explain their defeat in the light of the absence of reforms. This raises the risk of an election crisis if the reforms are not implemented consensually.
The proposed election reforms focus on five main issues. The composition of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) is the primary source of contention. The other issues relate to the distribution of seats by electoral district; the nature of the voting system; limits to the number of presidential terms; and the equitable access of political parties and civil society to state media.
With regard to the INEC, the problem lies at both at the central level and in local branches. The alliances by some political forces with the presidential party have changed the political composition of INEC. The opposition believes that it is under-represented at the central and local levels of the institution, while the ruling party claims the opposite. The problem has been partly solved by the expansion of the INEC's local branches to include members of the opposition, as agreed during the recent talks.
However, the composition of the INEC at the central level, which is essential to the conduct of a fair and transparent election, remains unresolved. Of the 17 members of the INEC, only three belong to the opposition. Often accused of being partisan, civil society also has three members. According to the opposition, this configuration creates an imbalance that compromises the decision-making process within the INEC.
Togolese politicians are also divided on the issue of electoral boundaries. Constituencies should be reviewed based on the general census. The ruling party, the Union for the Republic (UNIR), feels that the decree of 10 April 2013 on the division of National Assembly seats by constituency is consistent with the GPA. The opposition argues that this decree is irrelevant because the distribution of seats does not take into account the demographic criteria prescribed by the GPA. It believes that the inconsistencies between the number of voters and the number of seats per constituency should be corrected.
Regarding the nature of the voting system, the constitution of 14 October 1992 and the electoral code provided for a two-round election. However, the 2002 constitutional reforms cut the number of rounds to one. This, along with subsequent changes to the electoral code, has resulted in politicians failing to reach a consensus on the nature of the voting system.
The opposition has since demanded a return to a two-round election. In addition, the opposition believes that the UNIR, in its attempt to retain power, prefers a single-ballot system for the presidential elections, and closed list proportional representation for parliamentary elections. In the context of the July 2013 talks, the issue of the voting system has not been resolved.
As to the question of limits on presidential terms, the GPA has provided for a return to the spirit of the 1992 constitution. That constitution limited the number of presidential terms to two, which the 2002 constitution does not do. During the July talks, stakeholders agreed to make it the subject of a broad and thorough debate. Despite this commitment, the parties will probably fail to reach an agreement, especially as the presidential election is around the corner. While President Faure Gnassingbé's second term only ends in 2015, the opposition has already insisted that the limit be applied immediately, even though the law has not yet been changed. However, the presidential party, UNIR, could put forward the principle of non-retroactivity of the law.
The opposition has also denounced the ruling party's monopoly over the state media and demanded the involvement of the private media, especially when results are being announced. Despite the promise of officials of the High Authority for Audio-visual and Communication (HAAC) at the July talks to make every effort to do so, only the official Togolese Television (TVT) covered the announcement of the election results.
Two other concerns, namely the radicalisation of the opposition and the constraints of the electoral calendar, heighten political and security risks. The first fear is already apparent since the Constitutional Court announced the final results of the legislative elections. Five political parties and groups will lead the new parliament. The UNIR won 62 seats out of 91, an absolute majority. The Save Togo Collective, the Rainbow coalition, the Union of Forces for Change (UFC) and Upsurge Togo together won 29 seats.
Most members of the opposition contest the absolute majority obtained by the UNIR. The opposition, which won fewer seats but more votes than the UNIR, claims this discrepancy is due to flawed re-districting and the distribution of seats to benefit the ruling party. The UNIR rejects this argument and states that its victory with 880 000 votes, against 900 000 votes for the opposition, is the manifestation of popular support for its policies.
The second concern is the tight timetable for future elections. Seven years ago, the Rally of the Togolese People (RPT) won the elections but failed to fully implement reforms as stipulated by the GPA. The RPT, which became the UNIR, now holds an absolute majority in parliament. The opposition may voice its discontent in the streets if UNIR's members of parliament do not vote for these reforms before the next elections, which are fast approaching.
In view of the uncertain political and security context of the sub-region, national and international actors must work together to prevent another crisis in Togo. First, Togolese political actors must be self-critical and draw lessons from their actions over the past 20 years. Second, Archbishop Barrigah and the American ambassador, who worked hard to ensure that the parliamentary elections were held in July 2013, must continue their efforts for the consensual implementation of the GPA. Then, Burkina Faso's President Blaise Compaoré, facilitator and president of the Monitoring Committee of the GPA, must ensure its implementation before the local and presidential elections in order to avoid violent protests.
The situation in Togo raises the issue of delays, as well as the monitoring of the implementation of political agreements that can calm specific situations in the short run without resolving underlying problems.
Kilo Lidawo is a junior fellow in the Conflict Prevention and Risk Analysis Division of the ISS in Dakar. The publication of this article was made possible by a grant from the International Development Research Center (IDRC), Ottawa, Canada.