|Ruling-party candidate Faure Gnassingbe casts his vote in Lome |
Voters in the West African nation of Togo are turning out in large numbers to choose a successor to Gnassingbe Eyadema, who died earlier this year after four decades in power. Angry opposition supporters allege the vote is being rigged in favor of Mr. Eyadema's son, the ruling party candidate, and they are threatening protests.
One of the first to vote was 39-year-old Faure Gnassingbe, who said a first battle had been won with the holding of this election, in line with the demands of the West African regional grouping, ECOWAS, and Togo's constitution.
Mr. Gnassingbe was installed as president by the military, following his father's death, but stepped down and agreed to allow these elections under pressure from ECOWAS.
Later, at his late father's luxurious residence, known as Lome II, he told journalists that, if he wins, he will organize a national unity government to appease the Togolese opposition.
On another side of Lome, opposition supporters chanted, "President," when their candidate, Emmanuel Akitani-Bob, voted.
He said the electoral process is not free and fair, but that he is fighting to break what he called four decades of ferocious dictatorship and economic mismanagement.
After voting, an aide gave him some rubbing alcohol, and he quickly made disappear what was supposed to be indelible ink to prevent repeat voting. He said journalists should draw their own conclusions.
A third candidate, Harry Olympio, delayed voting because, at his voting center, scuffles broke out when materials failed to show up, to the dismay of one would-be voter, Kafarou.
"There is no material to vote," he said. " We want to vote, but there is no material. The situation will be bad."
Elsewhere, newly registered voters said their names were not added to voter lists, and that they were being denied the right to vote. One of them warned there would be violent street protests, if the voting process is perceived as unfair.
"The people must go, the people must decide all in the road of Lome. This becomes their duty. In this way, I think that Togo must become a Rwanda," he added.
During campaigning opposition supporters could be seen wielding machetes, prompting Interior Minister Francois Boko to resign abruptly Friday, saying holding the vote now was in his words "suicidal."
A tract was being distributed at polling centers saying liberty is a right that must be torn from the hands of the oppressor, and that only courage will allow this.
Despite the growing fears of violence in Togo's turbulent post-Eyadema era, the regional group, ECOWAS, said the poll should go ahead. The grouping, which has helped Togo's interim government organize the poll, has 150 observers on the ground. The opposition called for foreign peacekeepers as well, but none were deployed.