Togo Heads to Polls Amid Claims of Power Grab By President Gnassingbé

Faure Gnassingbé, président du Togo

Some four million Togolese are to vote Monday for legislative and regional elections that have been twice delayed. Opponents accuse longtime ruler Faure Gnassingbe of seeking to extend his grip on power after MPs signed off on controversial changes to the constitution.

Campaigning was rushed on the back of parliament's approval of constitutional reforms that would allow lawmakers to elect the president instead of a direct vote by the people.

The move transformed Togo, one of the world's poorest countries, from a presidential system to a parliamentary one.

It establishes new prime minister-style position called President of the council of ministers, to be held by the leader of the biggest party.

'Power grab'

Opposition parties denounced the reform as a ploy by Gnassingbé and his ruling Union for the Republic party - which has a majority in the 91-seat National Assembly - to get around presidential term limits.

The 57-year-old leader will likely assume the new position when his term expires next year.

"We are calling on the heads of our institutions to refer the matter to the Constitutional Court," Maître Claude Amegan, who leads the Collective against impunity in Togo, told RFI.

Gnassingbe has been in office since 2005 after succeeding his father, who had remained in power for nearly 38 years following a military coup.

He then later won re-election in multiple votes that were condemned as fraudulent by his rivals.

While opposition groups boycotted the last legislative elections in 2018, this time round they have mobilised.

"We are going to the elections," Jean-Pierre Fabre, president of the National Alliance for Change, told RFI.

"We have noticed that it is worse not to run or to boycott. We are asking the population to vote massively for us, to correct the problems in the electoral register."

Protest ban

In the lead up to campaigning, protests against the constitutional reforms were banned, further ratcheting up tensions.

Public protests have been outlawed since 2022 after a gendarme was killed in an attack at a market in the capital Lome.

The African Union's Commission on human and peoples' rights and rights groups condemned the restrictions on the right to freedom of peaceful assembly and freedom of expression.

Meanwhile the West African regional bloc Ecowas was accused of failing to enforce democratic rules in its member states after a fact-finding mission sent to Togo last week did not denounce the constitutional reforms.

Alioune Tine, founder of the Dakar-based thinktank AkricaJom Centre, told RFI that Ecowas should sanction heads of states when they seek to hold on to power undemocratically.

Togo became independent in 1960, after being colonised by the German, British and French empires successively.

It has only been through a brief area of democratic freedom in the early 1960s.

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