Togo: Opponents Slam Togo's New Constitution As Ploy for Gnassingbé to Stay in Power

President Faure Gnassingbe

Togo's presidency has asked the parliament for a "second reading" of a controversial constitutional reform approved last week following public outcry over what opponents say is a ploy by President Faure Gnassingbé to hold onto power and extend his nearly two-decade-long rule.

A "second reading" of the reform was justified by the "interest of the public aroused by the text since its adoption" last week, Gnassingbé's office said in a statement published Friday.

The constitutional reform, which was approved with 89 votes in favour, one against and one abstention, would grant parliament the power to choose the President, doing away with direct elections.

This would make it likely that Gnassingbé, whose party controls the parliament, would be re-elected in next year's presidential election.

'Avoiding' voters

The move towards a parliamentary system is a way for Gnassingbé to avoid facing voters at the polls, says Brigitte Adjamagbo-Johnson, of the opposition Democratic convention of the African people (CDPA).

"This is being done to avoid direct voting for the president, because the person holding power knows very well that it will be difficult to continue to cheat and tamper with presidential elections," she told RFI.

"He was never elected, you know, and he knows that the Togolese people are lying in wait for him in the next election".

Gnassingbé has ruled the country for 19 years, since 2005 when he took over after the death of his father, Gnassingbé Eyadema, who seized power in a coup in 1967. The last elections date back to 2020.

Gnassingbé faced widespread demonstrations in 2017 and 2018 calling for an end to his family's rule. A crackdown on protests including internet shutdown helped Gnassingbé survive the demonstrations and in May 2019 his government voted in a change to Togo's constitution potentially enabling him to remain in office until 2030.

Several other African countries have pushed through constitutional and legal changes in recent years, allowing their presidents to extend their terms in office.

Parliamentary system

Togo's new constitution, which would mark its fifth republic, would also limit the power of the presidency - which would be reduced to a single six-year term - and create the position of President of the council of ministers, who would have "full authority and power to manage the affairs of the government".

The role, similar to that of a Prime Minister, would go to the leader of the party or majority coalition of parties following legislative elections.

Adjamagbo-Johnson says that while parliamentary systems like this exist elsewhere, the reform in Togo would not work in the current context.

"The problem is that we are faced with a system that is resistant to democracy and that has done everything it can for several years to prevent political change," she said.

She doubts a parliamentary system would have any more legitimacy than the presidential system that has been in place until now.

"This surreal debate is occurring in a country where we know that elections have never been transparent," she said.

"This is a diversion to scheme to hold on to power indefinitely".

Elections coming up

Parliamentary and regional elections are coming up on 20 April and Adjamagbo-Johnson is coordinating an opposition campaign, after having boycotted the elections in 2018.

It is unclear when lawmakers would start a second reading of the constitutional reform and whether there would be amendments added.

The date on which the reform would take effect has also not been communicated.

(with newswires)

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