On 25th April 2015 Togo will go to the polls in an election which sees the incumbent, President Faure Gnassingbé, attempt to extend his family’s rule of the country into a sixth decade. A recent report by the Tournons La Page (Turn the Page) campaign group noted that 88 percent of the Togolese population have only known one ruling family and it seems likely that this percentage will continue to rise.
In February 2015, the ruling l’Union pour la République (UNIR) selected Gnassingbé as their presidential candidate despite demands from opposition parties for a presidential term limit which would have prevented Gnassingbé from running. In 2014, this call for a presidential term limit became a rallying cry for Togo’s various opposition parties and a proposal was put before the country’s national assembly in June 2014. However, the odds were definitely stacked against the opposition, which needed 80 percent of the national assembly – where the UNIR hold 62 of the 91 seats – to vote with them to alter the constitution. Unsurprisingly, the proposal was rejected. Following this, the opposition parties focussed on cultivating popular support for the cause, which was given impetus by the formation of the coalition Combat pour l’Alternance Politique (CAP) party in October 2014. This was demonstrated in November 2014, when large scale protests broke out in Lomé. It was reported that thousands took to the streets to call for constitutional change and were met by a heavy police presence. Togo’s Security and Civil Protection Ministry announced on state television that all necessary measures would be taken to prevent demonstrators from reaching Togo’s parliament and the police used tear gas and rubber bullets to quell the protests.
Although further demonstrations took place in late November and early December, the turnout was reportedly considerably smaller on both occasions. Nonetheless, the opposition managed to organise negotiations with the ruling party over constitutional changes in January 2015. These soon broke down as it became clear that the UNIR was not willing to discuss presidential term limits and both the opposition and the ruling party blamed each other for the breakdown in negotiations. Nevertheless, presidential term limits and constitutional change remain a key aspect of Gnassingbé’s closest competitor’s campaign. CAP’s presidential candidate, Jean-Pierre Fabre, has stated that he is committed to constitutional reform which would weaken the position of the presidency. This would not only include imposing a presidential term limit of two five year terms but also a strengthening of the power of the prime minister. Thus, term limits remain a key topic of this year’s election.
Fabre also ran against Gnassingbé in 2010 and secured 33.9 percent of the vote under the Union des Forces du Changement (UFC) party; he subsequently challenged the legitimacy of the election and declared himself the winner. Although the creation of the CAP coalition has definitely improved Fabre’s chances of challenging Gnassingbé through uniting different parties, the opposition remains divided. This even includes on matters such as whether to compete in the election as six smaller parties, and influential civil society groups such as Organisations de Défense des Droits de l’Homme, are calling for a boycott. There is certainly rising discontent over Gnassingbé’s continued rule, as shown by a recent teachers’ strike in March 2015 which drew hundreds of supporters, but it questionable whether this will equate to votes for Fabre.
Furthermore, it is unlikely that Gnassingbé and the UNIR will allow themselves to be removed from power through the ballot box. The government has demonstrated its willingness to use force to impose its rule and this was again shown in March 2015 when the army was called to support the police in response to the teachers’ strike. In preparation for Election Day the government announced that the armed forces will vote on 22nd April so as to allow them to provide security on 25th April, and Gnassingbé replaced the head of a special 8000 strong election security team (FOSEP) by presidential decree on 16th April. Although it has been reported that the former head of FOSEP was suffering from ill health, the decision still demonstrates Gnassingbé’s focus on election security. Thus, it appears that Gnassingbé is bolstering his position in terms of security in anticipation of opposition to his expected victory. Moreover, despite the 10 day delay to the election due to irregularities concerning the voter registration list – which has been resolved by International mediators – there remains a strong possibility of electoral fraud based upon previous elections.
Thus, Togo’s election and post-election atmosphere could be quite tense. The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) has announced that it will send 100 election observers to Togo for the election and the group’s chairman, Ghanaian President John Dramani Mahama, has warned that “the whole international community will be watching you”. Mahama also added that all candidates must be prepared to accept the election results and that there can be “only one winner”. This statement is presumably aimed at Fabre after the election in 2010. Nevertheless, it is likely that Fabre will challenge Saturday’s election result if he loses again as he approaches this election in a stronger position politically than in 2010. If this results in protests, they will undoubtedly be met by a security crackdown for which Gnassingbé appears to be preparing. Although similar protests were predominantly peaceful in 2010, there is a possibility that if protests do arise they may see a return to post-election violence like that seen in 2005.